El Al to 'Immediately' Remove Passengers Who Refuse to Sit Next to Anyone for Whatever Reason

CEO’s promise comes after firestorm sparked when two women aboard a N.Y.-Tel Aviv flight were asked to move seats because ultra-Orthodox men didn't want to sit next to them

File photo, El Al Boeing
2015 Boeing

El Al will “immediately” remove any passenger who refuses to sit next to another passenger for any reason, the Israeli airline’s CEO announced Monday after Israeli tech company Nice Systems said it would no longer fly its employees on the carrier.

“To allay any doubt, I have a tightening of the protocol on this issue: From now on, any passenger who refuses to sit next to another passenger will immediately be removed from the flight,” El Al President and CEO Gonen Usishkin said in a statement Monday evening.

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“The post by the CEO of Nice was made hastily without checking the facts, and I made that clear in a call with him,” Usishkin added.

Hours earlier, Nice CEO Barak Eilam announced via posts on social media that the $1 billion-a-year company would ban its employees from flying Israel’s flag carrier.

“At NICE we don’t do business with companies that discriminate against race, gender or religion. NICE will not fly EL AL Israel Airlines until they change their practice and actions discriminating women,” Eilam wrote on LinkedIn.

Eilam’s decision came days after an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed by more than an hour after four ultra-Orthodox men refused to take their assigned seats next to women. Two women eventually agreed to change their seats in order to allow the flight to take off.

An account of the incident was posted on Facebook by a passenger, Israeli rapper Khen Rotem.

Following the incident on Thursday evening, El Al apologized in a statement and added that: “Any discrimination by passengers is absolutely forbidden. El Al flight attendants do everything that they can to provide service to a wide range of passengers and various requests and try to assist.”

On Monday, Usishkin defended the flight crew’s handling of the situation. “The El Al personnel who dealt with the incident did so with due sensitivity. Anyone who flies on the national airline senses the values on which we built the company: an egalitarian company that makes no distinctions on the basis of religion, race or gender,” he said in his statement.

A year ago, an Israeli court ruled that El Al cannot ask women to move seats to accommodate a man who does not want to sit next to a woman, in response to a lawsuit filed by a Holocaust survivor in her 80s.

Nice’s ban puts El Al in a difficult position. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are a major market for the airline, especially on its key New York-Tel Aviv route, but so is the business travel generated by Israel’s globally oriented high-tech industry. El Al shares were down 1.3% at 81 agorot (22 cents) in late trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.