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Group of Jewish Girls from New York Kicked Off Amsterdam Flight Twice

Eighteen teenaged Jewish girls who were twice kicked off flights from Amsterdam to New York were forced to spend Shabbos in Europe, after KLM/Delta Airlines alleged non-compliance with rules, accusations the girls deny and say are antisemitically motivated.

The teenagers were part of a group of 56 girls, mostly from New York, who had been touring Jewish sites in Europe with Rebbetzin Shulamis Sternbuch of Israel. Upon arrival in Amsterdam at the start of their trip on July 20, a KLM/Delta security official at the airport claimed the girls had behaved improperly on the flight, cursed at flight crew and not followed mask guidelines. The girls denied these allegations, saying they fully complied with all rules and wore masks except when eating. The official threatened that they would be blacklisted. Askanim in New York were contacted and investigated the matter, and determined that no one had been placed on any blacklist.

When their two-week trip concluded, Rebbetzin Sternbuch and the other Israelis on the trip returned to Israel, while the rest of the group, most of whom live in Monsey, Williamsburg or Boro Park, had a flight back to New York on Thursday, from Ukraine with a stopover in Amsterdam.

On the KLM flight from Ukraine, the flight crew was “harassing the girls the entire time,” according to a brother of one of the girls, who had spoken to his sister on the phone about the incident.

“Every few minutes, they were coming over to the girls, saying, ‘Fix your mask,’ even though the masks were on properly the entire time,” the brother, who declined to give his name, told Hamodia. “Then, when the girls started eating, the flight attendants said they were not allowed to eat because it was not the official meal time, but they didn’t say a word about the mask.”

When the group attempted to board the connecting flight in Amsterdam for New York, 18 of them were denied entry and told they could not board the flight. No specific reason was given. These are the first 18 girls on the group’s list in alphabetical order; all have last names beginning with A through K. The airline says these girls had been booked in as one group.

The official who banned the girls from the plane was the same one who had threatened to blacklist them two weeks earlier.

The doors of the connecting plane had already closed when the chaperone realized 18 of her girls were missing. She asked to leave the plane. When denied permission, she began pounding on the door. Despite a warning from the flight crew that she could be arrested, the woman insisted she would not leave her girls behind. Eventually she was allowed off the plane. The other girls, who had been permitted to board the connecting plane, continued on to New York alone.

Back at the Amsterdam airport, KLM said it would put the 18 girls on another flight only if each paid a 2,000 euro fine.

At first, the girls went to a Delta Airlines counter to try to get on a Delta flight. But Delta, which is a partner airline with KLM, said the girls would need to pay the same 2,000 euros. The girls looked into booking another flight, but KLM said it would charge 200 euros for release of each piece of luggage.

“The girls are nervous and scared,” the brother told Hamodia as the girls waited in the airport, believing they were victims of antisemitic extortion. While the flight attendants did not make any antisemitic statements, the brother said, “This is obviously antisemitism. They targeted 18 Jewish girls, in alphabetical order, and they didn’t even bother giving a reason.”

Family members in New York reached out to Jewish activists and organizations. Oizrim Jewish Council contacted frum attorneys in the Netherland, who worked on the girls’ behalf, racing to try to get them and their chaperone out on a flight in time to arrive in New York for Shabbos. Joel Rosenfeld of Bobov reached out to the office of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and UJO of Williamsburg contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), who intervened with officials at Delta Airlines. Chabad shluchim brought kosher food to the airport.

Initially, the attorneys said they would get the girls on a United flight, pay the fees, and later sue. But following the intervention by the officials, Delta said it would put the girls on a flight Friday morning, for no fee. The girls spent the night in a cordoned-off area of the airport.

In a statement to Hamodia early Friday morning, KLM said, “Safety is KLM’s top priority. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines does not tolerate any form of unruly behavior towards passengers or crew. When passengers endanger flight safety and thus the safety of themselves, other passengers and the crew, we take this very seriously. This also applies to passengers not adhering to COVID-19 measures. These measures are clearly communicated before and during travel to our passengers.

“On the 20th of July a large group of passengers on flight KL644 from New York JFK to Amsterdam refused to follow crew instructions on board. Upon arrival in Amsterdam this group was again cautioned and explained the possible consequences of unruly behavior by KLM’s security department. It was also made very clear that this was the last warning.

“The same group travelled from Kiev to Amsterdam on the 5th of August and again did not adhere to crew instructions and showed unruly behavior on board. Upon arrival, a group of … passengers (1 booking) was therefore offloaded and not allowed to travel on to New York. This group has been rebooked on a Delta flight from Amsterdam to New York today.”

The brother of one of the girls told Hamodia that the KLM statement is “a blatant lie.”

“Those girls were targeted because they were Jews. They were adhering to their rules and instructions the entire time,” he said. “In fact, many of the girls had slept through most of the flight and had no interactions with the flight staff.”

Prior to the flight, the girls were warned that if even a single one of them did not comply with mask rules, the entire group would be kicked off the flight. The girls, who say they had never committed any mask infraction anyway, said they were happy to comply.

At 4:20 a.m. in New York (10:30 a.m. in Amsterdam), the Bobover askan Joel Rosenfeld spoke to the chaperone, who said that they were on the Delta plane, ready to go. But at 4:52, Rosenfeld received a call he described as shocking: the group had just been kicked off that plane, apparently due to one or more girls having switched seats, which the airline deemed impermissible.

A woman on the flight (who was not part of the group) had been traveling with her son, but were assigned seats apart from each other. The woman, Neda Krauss of Long Island, told Hamodia that another man on the plane volunteered to switch seats so that Krauss and her son could sit near each other. Then, two of the Jewish girls who had also been seated apart “asked if we could all switch things around so that the two girls would sit together and I would sit next to my son,” Krauss said. “It would be beneficial for everyone. And it was the most normal thing under any other circumstance. But then we were told by a steward that we not allowed to make any seat switches, and so we all went back to our seats.”

Krauss says that while the other man, and a few others in the area, questioned why the flight attendants were not permitting seat switches, no one was particularly argumentative, and that neither the two girls nor anyone else in the group uttered a word of protest, but simply went back to their seats as they were told. Krauss says that the flight attendants did not explain their reason for banning seat switches.

But the group of girls — and not Neda, her son, nor the other man — was then asked to leave the plane. In a statement to Hamodia, Delta said the group was kicked off for “refus[ing] to comply with crew instructions,” but did not elaborate or respond to detailed questions by Hamodia about the reasons for the airline’s decision or about the behavior of airline officials.

Another passenger on the plane, who asked to be identified only as John and sat in a different area and did not witness the incident, told Hamodia that a Delta official later specifically mentioned to him the seat-switching issue as a reason the girls were kicked off, and that the airline had earlier said any infraction by one girl would result in all being ejected. But when John had asked the flight attendants on the plane what the girls had done wrong, “the flight attendant was telling everyone that people in the back were not keeping their masks on and doing other things wrong. I asked them to be more specific, and they said there is a long list of things, but they didn’t elaborate , and didn’t mention a seat-switching issue.”

Krauss and the girls say that other than this seat-switching issue, no one in the group committed any infractions.

“The girls seemed petrified and scared,” Krauss says. “I really don’t know what the reason behind this all was.”

John says that because of the way the flight attendants were speaking about the girls, “everyone on the flight got angry at this group. They riled up everyone to be upset at the group.”

The girls say it was the same KLM/Delta security official who had threatened them with blacklisting the first time, then kicked them off the second flight, that was responsible for now kicking them off this third flight.

The group refused to leave the plane, on advice from their attorney, who was at the airport in Amsterdam and in communication with the chaperone.

All passengers were then forced to deplane, including the group.

While in the airport after deplaning, a short video was filmed and widely seen on social media, in which the Krauss and a girl who had switched seats described what happened.

Other girls took videos, including of the official they say is responsible for having them banned from the flights. But then the official forced them to delete the videos, saying they would not be allowed to leave the airport and witholding their passports until they deleted them, the girls say. When the girls asked the man for his name, he refused to give it, and covered up his name tag.

John says that he spoke with the girls in the airport and asked what had happened. “I couldn’t believe how divergent their version and the flight attendants’ versions were,” John says. “While I didn’t see the incidents myself, when speaking with these girls, I didn’t sense any hint of rebelliousness. They were trying to be very compliant and in shock. They seemed really sweet and nice and polite.”

“So a flight attendant got angry that these girls had switched seats, and they therefore delay hundreds of people for two hours, and then they blamed it on not wearing masks and not complying with rules?” John says.”

After the two-hour delay, all passengers — minus the group of girls but including the others who had switched seats — were allowed back on the plane, which ultimately landed in New York at 2:30 p.m.

John says that captain said on the microphone that “they had done this for our safety. They must have seen this as a PR problem and decided to twist it.”

Meanwhile, askanim once again contacted officials in America and Jewish activists in Europe, and began making arrangement for the girls to spend Shabbos in Antwerp and their eventual flight home.

The girls arrived in Antwerp late Friday afternoon. A house was rented for them, and food was arranged.

Askanim, passengers and relatives say that the airlines must make a thorough investigation into the incidents.

“On the face if it, this sounds like plain and simple antisemitism,” Rosenfeld said. “I am grateful to Sen. Schumer’s staff, who answered my calls at 5 a.m. Friday, and all the other officials and others who assisted as well. Sen. Schumer’s staff has assured us that this story is being investigated by executive-level Delta officials.”

“It is outrageous how these girls were disgraced,” John said. “I don’t want this incident to be forgotten about. “Delta needs to do an investigation, and determine what happened.”

The girls hope to fly to New York on Sunday.

“I can tell you one thing,” Rosenfeld said. “They will not be taking a KLM/Delta flight.”