British budget airline easyJet has paid an undisclosed sum in compensation to a British-Israeli woman who was asked to switch seats by cabin crew because of her gender. The woman had filed a lawsuit against easyJet alleging flight attendants pressured her into giving up a seat she had 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 on flights to and from Israel, the practice is outlawed by anti-discrimination rules which were passed by Israeli politicians more than 20-years ago.
Melanie Wolfson, who lives in Tel Aviv but used to travel regularly between Israel and London, was supported by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) which also helped an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor successfully sue Israeli flag carrier El Al after a similar incident in 2015.
Wolfson claimed that after boarding an easyJet flight from Tel Aviv to London on October 10, 2019, she sat down in her aisle seat which happened to be next to an ultra-Orthodox man and his son. 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 who was happy to take Ms Wolfson’s seat was found but Wolfson initially refused because she felt she was being discriminated against solely for her gender.
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.
easyJet claims it is aware that ultra-orthodox Jewish men regularly ask to change seating assignments in order to avoid sitting next to a woman not in their household but that the airline has a policy not to give in to these demands.
Wolfson, however, says she spoke to cabin crew on the flight who told her they normally asked the female passenger to move in such incidents to avoid any problems.
After filing a complaint, Wolfson still hadn’t received a response when two months later she was then caught up in a very similar incident on another easyJet flight from Tel Aviv to London. On that occasion, two other female passengers agreed to swap seats with two male passengers.
Wolfson had been seeking US$19,515 in compensation from easyJet but on Wednesday night, the airline said in a joint statement with the Israel Religious Action Center that it had reached an undisclosed out of court settlement.
“easyJet is committed to tackling any discrimination on flights. Therefore, we listened when Ms Wolfson told us about incidents of gender discrimination on our flights when she was asked to move simply because she is female,” the joint statement read.
“We take this very seriously and in addition to compensating Ms Wolfson for her experience, easyJet intends to implement additional crew training and renew our crew guidelines in order to prevent these incidents from happening in the future.”
“At easyJet we believe that flying should be a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone, regardless of their gender and we are committed to making sure this is the case going forward,” the statement continued.
In 2017, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor and a former lawyer, Renee Rabinowitz won a landmark case against Israeli airline 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”.
El Al now has a policy of offloading any passenger that refuses their seating assignment because they would be sat next to someone of the opposite gender.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.