Three ultra-Orthodox passengers were kicked off a flight earlier this week from California to New York after switching seats. “My flight crew tells me they don’t want you on the plane,” the pilot told the passengers. “I have to stand by them.” One of the passengers protested the decision and called it “antisemitism”.
The incident began when an elderly Jewish man who was on the flight from Palm Springs, California to Kennedy Airport sat down in an empty seat. A flight attendant asked him if that was his seat, and when he said no, she told him he couldn’t sit there. He took another seat that he thought was free and the flight attendant told him he couldn’t sit there either. This is what the Forward website reported .
One of the two ultra-Orthodox women sitting elsewhere on the plane intervened and explained that he could not sit in the seat designated for him because of a “religious matter”, probably because he was seated next to a woman.
Another passenger, Ron Pesaro, offered the elderly Jew his seat. “You are a hero to me,” the ultra-Orthodox woman told Pesaro. The elderly man then switched places again with one of the two women, it is not clear why they made the additional switch.
Pesaro told the Forward website that he thought the meeting was arranged, when suddenly the captain and a security man appeared and told the ultra-Orthodox passengers that they had to get off the plane. The captain said the crew informed him they “didn’t feel comfortable with them on the flight.”
The security official said: “The captain and the crew have made the decision. You are getting off this plane” He added that “changing seats is a violation when it comes to weight imbalance. You have to sit in your assigned seats.”
The ultra-Orthodox woman defended the elderly man and said, “Did he shoot? Did he do something, did he touch anyone? He didn’t do anything. It’s only for religious purposes. Do we look dangerous?” She added that she had a job, children and grandchildren waiting for her to come home, then stated, “This is antisemitism.”
Rachel Sklar, who was also on the flight, posted about the incident on the social media platform X and said : “They said it was clearly antisemitism, and I said, ‘It sure is, the whole thing was really upsetting. It seemed very unnecessary and quite confusing.’
She added: “I was shocked that they threw them off the plane at that time on New Year’s Eve.” The flight left at 22:30, half an hour late.
Sklar said she assumes airlines try to accommodate religious requests the same way they accommodate people’s requests to sit with their families. Sklar herself is allergic to cats and asked to change seats if another passenger has a cat with him. “The flight attendants have a lot of discretion; they can change people’s places,” she said. “The matter with the weight did not make sense.”
JetBlue did not respond to a request for comment from the Forward website.