Photo: Amit Ben Natan
Passengers aboard an El Al flight from New York's JKF airport to Israel claim that hundreds of ultra-Orthodox passengers demanded that they trade places with them before takeoff, saying they cannot sit next to women.
"It was an 11-hour long nightmare," said one of the passengers, summing up her experience.
On Wednesday morning, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, thousands of Israeli and Jewish passengers landed in Israel, including scores of ultra-Orthodox Jews who decided to celebrate the Jewish New Year in the Holy Land.
However, things didn't go so smoothly on one El Al flight carrying a large group of haredim, as well as secular Jews, that departed from New York's JFK airport and landed in Israel at 5 am Wednesday.
According to the passengers who were on the plane, their fellow ultra-Orthodox travelers refused to sit next to women prior to takeoff, which not only delayed the flight, but caused chaos to ensue on the plane.
"People stood in the aisles and refused to go forward," said Amit Ben-Natan, a passenger who was onboard the plane.
"Although everyone had tickets with seat numbers that they purchased in advance, they asked us to trade seats with them, and even offered to pay money, since they cannot sit next to a woman. It was obvious that the plane wouldn't take off as long as they kept standing in the aisles."
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Passengers claimed that though the El Al flight crew informed them they do not have to agree to a switch, the flight's captain said over the PA system that the flight would not take off as long as people were standing.
"This is completely inconsiderate of the non-haredi travelers. I don't know many airlines that would allow their passengers to act like that," said Bar Natan.
Galit, another traveler on the flight, said the ultra-orthodox passengers suggested she and her spouse split up to better accommodate their desired seating arrangements: "Why should I agree to switch places?" she said with anger.
After she refused, the haredi man seated next to her conceded, but it was only temporary: "I ended up sitting next to a haredi man who jumped out of his seat the moment we had finished taking off and proceeded to stand in the aisle."
It seems that after takeoff a large portion of the haredi travelers took to the aisle to pray which, according to their fellow travelers, crowded the aisle and caused the flight to be unbearable.
"I went to the bathroom and it was a mission impossible, the noise was endless," Galit said.
In response, El Al promised to look into the issue, saying "El Al does everything it can to give its passengers the best possible service year-round. These days bring with them a peak in air traffic to Israel, and our crews on the ground and in the air are doing the best they can to address the needs and requests of all our travelers while trying not to fall behind schedule.
"The company will examine the complaints and if some passengers are found to have acted out of line the company will examine its future steps."