A grassroots campaign is taking on El Al airlines and their policy of allowing ultra-Orthodox passengers on flights to negotiate switching seats so that they are not seated next to women.
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A petition on Change.org launched on Sunday asks: “Why does El Al Airlines permit female passengers to be bullied, harassed, and intimidated into switching seats which they rightfully paid for and were assigned to by El Al Airlines? One person's religious rights does not trump another person's civil rights.“
In recent days, a number of incidents have been reported in the media regarding flight delays due to the haredi male passengers standing in the aisles until their seat preferences were met. Instead of forcefully ordering these passengers to take their seats or escorting them off the plane, the El Al staff has waited until the other passengers acquiesced, delaying take-off, sometimes for hours. In some cases, it was reported, the ultra-Orthodox offered their fellow passengers money in exchange for changing seats. While the El Al flight attendants did not actively pressure passengers to agree to switch seats, the captain refused to take off while the passengers were standing in the aisles.
The petition, initiated by Sharon Shapiro of Chicago says that El Al's current policy condones harassment and gender discrimination, and suggests that the company turn to creative solutions such as separate sex seating where passengers can pay to reserve seats in which they are guaranteed to sit next to passengers of the same gender “and not annoy or coerce other passengers before take-off to change seats with them - thereby avoiding arguments, bullying, and delayed take-off.”
Shapiro’s petition argues: “If a passenger was being verbally or physically abusive to airline staff, they would immediately be removed from the plane. If a passenger was flouting the rules for take-off, thereby causing flight delay, they would immediately be removed from the plane. If a passenger was openly engaging in racial or religious discrimination against another passenger or flight attendant, they would immediately be removed from the plane.”