An Israeli journalist who was flying on a United Airlines flight from Tel Aviv to Newark claims a flight attendant yelled at her and claimed the service could be canceled or end up diverting to Egypt because she refused to switch seats with a male Haredi Jew.
Neria Kraus, the U.S. correspondent for Israel’s Channel 13 News, posted on social media platform X about her interaction with the flight attendant just moments after the incident via the airplane’s inflight WiFi service on Tuesday.
Writing in Hebrew, Kraus said Hasidic Jewish men were trying to move her from her seat solely because she was a woman. Kraus complained that United’s crew were failing to handle the situation and had told her that if she didn’t comply with the men’s demands that the flight wouldn’t leave.
“What a sense of humiliation that the crew member in charge of United, an Israeli who speaks Hebrew, approaches and shouts at me that the flight will not take off,” Kraus wrote.
“And if they do fly, the flight will have to stop in Egypt because of me. Thanks to two amazing Israeli men and women next to me who supported me,” the translated post continued.
United Airlines flight UA85 departed Tel Aviv Ben Gurion around 30 minutes late on Tuesday, according to data supplied by Flight Radar 24, but a spokesperson for the airline says the flight is expected to arrive on time.
In a short statement, the airline said: “We offered the customer another seat – which was declined – the flight departed for New York/Newark and is expected to arrive on time.”
United did, however, offer Kraus an apology after she made a follow-up post on X in English.
“A United crew member yelled at me that the flight to NYC won’t take off because of me – after I refused to Ultra Orthodox passengers’ request to change my seat,” Kraus wrote. “I was told the flight might touch down in Egypt and it would be my fault. What a humiliating event for me as a woman.”
In response, United’s social media team said: “We deeply apologize for this interaction and would like to look into this further.”
Male Haredi Jews say their religious beliefs prevent them from sitting next to women who are not family members, and, as a result, Orthodox Jewish men frequently asked to swap seats with female passengers on flights to and from Israel.
Airline crews are often called upon to accommodate these requests, but the practice was actually outlawed by anti-discrimination rules passed by Israeli politicians more than 20 years ago.
In 2021, budget airline EasyJet settled a lawsuit brought by a British-Israeli woman who was asked to switch seats by cabin crew on a flight from Tel Aviv because of her gender.
EasyJet paid an undisclosed sum to settle the lawsuit and promised additional training to cabin crew to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Several years earlier, in 2017, Holocaust survivor and 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.