Editor’s note: Flying the friendly skies to the Holy Land has become decidedly less friendly lately. Over the past six weeks, there have been multiple incidents in which flights heading from New York’s JFK Airport to Ben Gurion Airport were delayed after ultra-Orthodox male passengers refused to sit next to women. That is, a passenger (or several) objected to their pre-assigned seat, and flight attendants had to then find a suitable seat on a notoriously crowded plane, holding up the flight’s departure.
One September El Al flight from JFK, which a passenger called “an 11 hour nightmare,” was delayed long enough that passengers were worried they wouldn’t arrive home before Rosh Hashanah started. Feminist activist Elana Sztokman chronicled her horror and humiliation when the ultra-Orthodox male passenger seated next to her refused to take his seat and finally switched with a different passenger.
It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s become such a frequent occurrence in recent weeks that someone started a petition demanding El Al “Stop the bullying, intimidation, and discrimination against women” on its flights. It’s not just El Al, though—a Delta flight was delayed more than an hour earlier this month after several ultra-Orthodox passengers ultimately deplaned rather than sit next to passengers of the opposite sex.
Still, as the best-known Israeli airline, with up to 22 flights between the two cities a week, El Al bears much of the symbolic burden as these incidents mount. For their part, they’ve issued statements saying airline staff “are trying their best to respond to every request of any of the passengers,” and that they make “every effort possible to ensure a passenger’s flight is as enjoyable as possible while doing our utmost to maintain schedules and arrive safely at the destination.”
To help the airline better articulate its policies, and to educate passengers on what they might expect on their 11-hour journey to the Holy Land, we turned to our friends the Levinson Brothers, who produced an in-flight safety video El Al could screen as passengers board at JFK airport.