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easyJet Faces Lawsuit from Israeli Woman Forced to Move Seats for Ultra-Orthodox Man

easyJet Faces Lawsuit from Israeli Woman Forced to Move Seats for Ultra-Orthodox Man

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A British-Israeli woman who lives in Tel Aviv has filed a lawsuit against budget airline easyJet alleging flight attendants pressured her into giving up a seat she paid extra for in order to accommodate an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who claimed his faith prevented him from sitting next to a woman. Despite the desire of airline crew to accommodate the religious needs of Haredi Jews, the practice is outlawed by anti-discrimination rules which were passed more than 20-years ago.

Melanie Wolfson is being supported by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) which previously helped an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor successfully sue Israeli flag carrier El Al after a similar incident in 2015. Wolfson, 38, is demanding US$19,515 in compensation from easyJet and wants the airline to change crew guidelines in order to protect the rights of female passengers.

a group of people on an airplane
Photo Credit: easyJet

The October 10, 2019 incident started when Wolfson boarded the flight to London in Tel Aviv and took her aisle seat which happened to be next to an ultra-Orthodox man and his son who were already on the plane. The man’s son allegedly climbed out of his seat and into the row behind in order to avoid physical contact with her and immediately started to look for a male passenger who was willing to swap seats.

A male passenger was willing to swap seats but Wolfson initially refused because she felt she was being discriminated against solely for her gender. “It was the first time in my adult life that I was discriminated against for being a woman,” Wolfson told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“I would not have had any problem whatsoever switching seats if it were to allow members of a family or friends to sit together, but the fact that I was being asked to do this because I was a woman was why I refused.”

A member of cabin crew got involved and tried to convince Wolfson to move seats by offering a free hot drink from the buy onboard cart. Eventually, Wolfson says she agreed to move because she feared she would be held responsible for delaying the flight.

She claims that during the flight she spoke to cabin crew who said it was common for them to get involved in seating disputes between male ultra-Orthodox men and female passengers. They would normally ask the female passenger to move, she claims she was told by the flight attendants.

Wolfson filed a complaint with easyJet but two months later still hadn’t received a response from the airline. She was then caught up in a very similar incident on another easyJet flight from Tel Aviv to London and on that occasion, two other female passengers agreed to swap seats with two male passengers.

The flight attendants on that flight, it is claimed, did nothing to stop what was happening but when Wolfson raised a complaint they again offered a free hot drink as compensation.

In 2017, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor and a former lawyer, Renee Rabinowitz won a landmark case against El Al in which the judge ruled that “under absolutely no circumstances can a crew member ask a passenger to move from their designated seat because the adjacent passenger doesn’t want to sit next to them due to their gender”.

The incident occurred in 2015 on a fight from Newark to Tel Aviv and Rabinowitz didn’t take any action until she had a chance encounter with an executive from the IRAC. El Al has since told flight attendants to offload ultra-Orthodox passengers who refuse to sit next to someone because of their gender.

In a statement, a spokesperson for easyJet commented: “At EasyJet, we take claims of this nature very seriously. While it would be inappropriate to comment, as this matter is currently the subject of legal proceedings, we do not discriminate on any grounds.

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