A group of 18 American Orthodox Jewish girls were booted off two flights in Europe, which their rabbi claims was the result of religious bigotry. The girls were part of a 55-member group from New York and New Jersey who had traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine. The group spent two weeks visiting religious sites in the European nation. They were bound for New York, with a layover in Amsterdam.
Airline tries to fine group for traveling on the plane
During their return trip from Kyiv to Amsterdam, flight attendants from KLM Royal Dutch airlines apparently took issue with the girls, asking them to “fix your masks” as their noses were jutting out. The flight was operated by KLM in partnership with Delta Airlines. When a girl took off her mask to eat food, an attendant prevented her from doing so, claiming that it was not the designated mealtime. KLM wanted to charge the girls 2,000 Euros (around $3,000) to resolve the issues. They also wanted the group to pay extra charges for baggage.
A chaperone who accompanied the girls called Rabbi Yisroel Kahan. The rabbi contacted New York Senator Chuck Schumer who then contacted Ed Bastian, the Delta CEO. Bastian was able to get the group a flight to New York. The trip to New York was also riddled with problems. While the girls boarded the plane, a woman asked one of them to switch seats with her so that she could sit with her son. The girl complied.
However, a flight attendant scolded the girls for “not obeying the rules.” Even though the girl tried to defuse the situation by returning back to the original seat, the attendant asked all of them to exit the plane. “You’re misbehaving, you’re kind of on thin ice, to begin with, get off the plane,” the attendant apparently said, according to Kahan.
If it looks like a duck…quacks like a duck, it’s probably antisemitism
The rabbi suspects that antisemitism was in play. “Either you’re telling me that you know that each and everyone one of them was violating rules on both flights… Or you’re telling me that you banned the entire group, a group of one ethnicity, for this misbehavior,” Kahan said to Business Insider. “With antisemitism, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck,” he added.
When the chaperone contacted an attorney, the lawyer advised that they should not get off their seats. But the attendant forced everyone off the aircraft and refused to let them back in. As a result, the flight was delayed by around two hours.
“We saw a group of girls, very nice and quiet… We saw a lady ask some of the girls to change [seats] and the girls say, ‘Why not?’ and they change [seats]… The flight attendants start to announce the names of the girls, say they have to come down… The girls started to cry. They didn’t feel they did anything wrong here. Why are they so nasty to them?” a passenger said to Fox News.
A KLM guard apparently jeered at the girls and made them delete any videos they had taken on the plane.
Forced to fly home during Shabbat
When the group requested to board a later flight to arrive in New York before the Shabbat, their request was denied. During Shabbat, which falls on the seventh day of the week, Jews are supposed to rest and not allowed to travel by plane. The girls were eventually transferred to Antwerp, a city in Belgium that is home to numerous Orthodox Jews. They were scheduled to fly back to New York on the next day, a Sunday.
While speaking to Fox News, the rabbi questioned the airline’s logic of removing the entire group from the plane. “If you punch someone, the cops don’t get to arrest me just because we were traveling together,” the rabbi said.
In a statement, KLM said that the girls’ group “did not adhere to crew instructions and showed unruly behavior onboard.” The girls’ relatives complained that the flight attendants were impatient and rude.