A group of Orthodox Jewish women who were blocked from flying back to New York last summer not once but twice are suing Delta Air Lines and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for religious and racial discrimination. They claim their treatment by the airlines is a reminder that “anti-Semitism and discrimination” still exists.
The nineteen American women had spent nearly two weeks in Europe and Ukraine on a religious and educational tour of Jewish heritage that included “the atrocities of the Holocaust” but were booted from a return flight even after Delta chief executive Ed Bastian personally intervened.
The women believe they were singled out by the airlines and subjected to “egregious discrimination because of their Jewish race, ethnicity, and religion”. The dispute seemingly stems from the group’s observance of face mask rules but the young women claim they only ever removed their face masks to eat or drink.
The tour got off to a bad start when the larger group of more than 50 women flew with KLM to Amsterdam from New York last July. During the flight, one of the flight attendants demanded, without explanation, to see one of the group’s passports during what seemed like an otherwise normal flight.
While waiting for their connection to Vienna, Austria the group was then approached by an airline security officer who told a senior chaperone that members of the group “hadn’t behaved” on the previous flight. Although they were allowed to fly, their cards had seemingly been marked.
After their tour of Europe, the women flew with KLM from Ukraine to Amsterdam and were then due to connect to New York. On the first leg of their return journey, however, the group were reprimanded for eating Kosher food that they had brought with them outside of normal meal times.
A flight attendant warned the group several times about complying with face mask rules and then issued a ‘final warning notice’ on the authority of the Captain for failing to comply with inflight pandemic rules.
The group insist they wore their face masks as required and only removed them briefly to eat and drink. The lawsuit claims other passengers were not reprimanded for eating and drinking outside of set meal times.
On arrival in Amsterdam, airline security officers blocked 19 of the women from boarding their connecting flight to New York. The women then found themselves stranded in the airport because local COVID-19 border rules meant they weren’t allowed to enter the Netherlands.
Instead, they had to spend the night at an otherwise deserted airport.
Back in New York, Senator Chuck Schumer apparently advocated on behalf of the group and the issue was escalated all the way up to Delta chief executive Ed Bastian. A new flight on a Delta plane was arranged by Bastian’s own executive assistance for the following day.
The lawsuit, however, claims that Delta staff on the ground made it clear that they didn’t want the group onboard the plane. Within minutes of boarding, the group were ordered off again because they had allegedly agreed to swap seats with other passengers.
After the group refused to get off the plane, Delta reps deplaned the entire aircraft.
Another offer from Bastian’s office to rebook the group on a flight the next day was rejected because it would have required them to fly on Shabbat. Instead, the group eventually managed to get out of the airport and took a train to Belgium where they spent Shabbat.
In the end, they booked new tickets for a flight from Brussels to New Jersey.
KLM and Delta have declined to comment on the pending litigation. However, a spokesperson for Delta said “compliance with flight crewmember instructions for the safety and well-being of everyone is paramount.’
“Delta also has zero tolerance for discrimination in any form in all aspects of our business.”
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.