Mayhem Delays Tel-Aviv-London Flight as ultra-Orthodox Men Refuse to Sit Next to Women

Some 10 ultra-Orthodox passengers stood in the aisles rather than taking their seats before the packed EasyJet flight took off. After a 15-minute standoff, some female passengers offered to change their seats so the flight could depart.

Luggage being unloaded from an EasyJet flight at Luton airport near London.
Luggage being unloaded from an EasyJet flight at Luton airport near London. Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Ultra-Orthodox passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv to London refused to take their seats next to women, delaying its departure. Police were called to the EasyJet plane when it landed at London Luton Airport on Monday afternoon, according to reports.

One officer stood at the door of the plane and two on the tarmac as the passengers deplaned to prevent a possible “breach of the peace” by the ultra-Orthodox passengers, the London Jewish Chronicle reported Wednesday.

Media reports indicated that more than half the passengers on the flight were on route to England to attend a wedding. According to the Jewish Chronicle, some 10 ultra-Orthodox passengers stood in the aisles rather than take their seats before takeoff of the flight, which was reported to be completely full. After a 15-minute standoff, some female passengers offered to change their seats so the flight could leave.

Another Haredi -- ultra-Orthodox -- passenger plugged his cellphone into a USB port on the crew control panel in the stewards’ galley area in order to charge it, causing the plane’s exit lights to illuminate and panicking the staff until they realized the problem, according to the Chronicle.

Many ultra-Orthodox men refrain from physical contact with women other than members of their immediate family including being seated next to women. Accommodation of the demands of ultra-Orthodox passengers has been an issue on other airlines as well, including El Al Israel Airlines and Delta.

EasyJet confirmed in a statement that the flight was met by police on arrival at London Luton “due to a small group of passengers behaving disruptively by not complying with the captain and cabin crew’s request to take their seats both prior to departure from Tel Aviv and during the flight.”

The airline also acknowledged the passenger’s attempt to charge his cellphone, saying it “did not in any way compromise the safety or security of the aircraft.”

In an unrelated incident, passengers travelling on a non-stop flight Air Canada from Toronto to Tel Aviv found themselves sitting on the tarmac at London's Heathrow airport on Wednesday for a few hours after the plane was forced to land due to an unruly passenger.

A commentary by David Israel on the Brooklyn-based Jewish Press website regarding the EasyJet incident said the timeline described about the event raises questions about the need to have the flight met by the police, claiming that the main disruption occurred before the flight took off from Israel. "It’s time for some smart entrepreneur to launch a Haredi airline, which would be cheaper and better run than most, and will come equipped with a small shul [synagogue]."