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Faith or Flight Rules? JetBlue Ejects Orthodox Jews Amid Seat Change Drama

by Staff

Faith or Flight Rules? JetBlue Ejects Orthodox Jews Amid Seat Change Drama

Three Orthodox Jewish passengers were kicked off of the JetBlue New Year’s Eve redeye from Palm Springs to New York JFK after changing seats on board.

One of the men moved to an open seat in order to avoid sitting next to a female passenger (that wasn’t a relative) who had the assignment next to him.

A flight attendant told him he couldn’t do that, so he tried another seat and was scolded again. The Orthodox women traveling with him tried to explain his religious concerns. A man who overheard offered up his seat, and the two switched.

  • That’s when the group of passengers was kicked off, because crew were “not comfortable” with them.
  • The two women who hadn’t tried to switch seats objected to having to leave, but were removed also.
  • A JetBlue employee claimed that “changing seats is a violation when it comes to weight imbalance.”

The pilot can be heard saying “My inflight crew tells me they do not want to have you on their plane,” and that “I have to support them.” One of the passengers interjected that this was “antisemitism.”

According to a passenger on board (whose boyfriend gave up his seat to accommodate the man), everything was peaceful.

49 USC § 44902 provides broad latitude, within certain bounds laid out by the FAA, for the captain of an aircraft to refuse transportation to a passenger if they feel that passenger might be “inimical to safety.”

A pilot’s decision cannot be arbitrary or capricious – but that’s not the same as saying it has to be reasonable. It’s generally presumed that the actions of the pilot are reasonable, and judged based on facts the pilot was aware of at the time and the time constraints they’re under.

  • If they’re given only one side of the story, and it’s incomplete
  • And they make a decision based on that information
  • And they’re in a rush to get the plane out
  • That’s probably going to be fine under the law

So if the captain felt that a passenger could be a safety risk solely because they weren’t listening to a flight attendant, even if it involves an issue where they’re not obligated to follow instructions, they’re probably within their rights to kick you off the plane. It probably wasn’t fair here, but that doesn’t mean the pilot was wrong under 49 USC § 44902.

At the same time, cabin crew probably should have handled things better so that it didn’t get to this point. We don’t know exactly why the flight attendant had an issue with this man changing into an open seat – whether it was how he looked (what he looked like), or how he responded to her. Many miscommunications happen, exacerbated when people are having bad days.

Naturally I want to know ‘what happened before the recording’ but we do have passengers who don’t seem to think the man had done anything improper. And it’s not just that man being kicked off – it’s his Orthodox traveling companions as well.

A year and a half ago Lufthansa engaged in collective punishment against Jews on a flight, refusing connecting transport to anyone believed to be Jewish after some Jewish passengers got in a row over masks (“it’s Jews coming from JFK. …Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems”).

As for the man concerned with having an unrelated female sitting next to him, the best approach here is to purchase an extra empty seat in the first place.

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