Israeli Court Knocks El Al For Gender Discrimination

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In a case that almost didn’t get brought to court, Israel’s national airline, El Al, has been convicted of gender discrimination when a woman was asked to take a different seat because an ultra-orthodox man didn’t want to sit next to her.

That once-common practice, which caters to a whim of someone from a sect with otherworldly-strict beliefs, was brought down by a suit filed by a holocaust survivor who originally intended to ignore the affront. But a couple of weeks after her flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was marred by the incident, Renee Rabinowitz, 81, attended an event where a representative of the Israel Religious Action Center discussed IRAC’s campaign against airlines’ practice of accommodating what Rabinowitz described as “a Haredi-looking [ultra orthodox] gentleman”. Such individuals are members of a group representing the social and cultural interests of fervently religious Jews. Created in response to escalating assimilation and secularization within worldwide Jewry, they aim to preserve and maintain Torah-bound Judaism, both on the individual and collective level.

But in refusing to sit next to a woman on, for example, an airplane, “a passenger asking to move their seat because of their gender will qualify as discrimination, and as such will be prohibited,” the Israeli court said in an English-language statement.

More specifically, The Jerusalem Post reported, “Requesting a seat change on an airplane before or after takeoff, based on a passenger’s gender, constitutes a breach of the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, [Services and Entry into Public Places Law],” ruled Judge Dana Cohen-Lekach of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

The JP website added, “The phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox men insisting on not sitting next to unrelated women on air flights has developed into a familiar pattern in recent years, with such demands frequently causing problems and delays for airlines due to the refusal of such men to take their seats before takeoff.”

El Al has said it will take the ruling seriously, and the airline is expected to modify its rules and retrain flight attendants within the 45-day period specified by the court.

The Guardian quoted the airline as saying, “The sides reached an agreement that the airline’s procedures would be clarified to its employees. The court validated this agreement and the company will respect the verdict.”

Air India Addressing Groping Incidents with Restraints

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A BBC report said yesterday (1/25) that in response to some females complaining that they’d been groped by other passengers, Air India is setting aside the first six rows in the coach class area for females only.

The airline also announced that cabin staff would have physical restraints available to them and crew will be authorized to use them to contain unruly passengers who refuse to cooperate voluntarily.

The station said that Air India is seeking to “enhance comfort level to female passengers” and reassure female passengers traveling alone.

In my limited experience flying Air India I’ve witnessed no groping incidents or anything of the sort. But I have been offended – to the point I felt I was being assaulted – by both bad breath and excessive body odors when flying with that carrier. And on transatlantic flights, that’s nevertheless a good deal less offensive than being groped – an experience I underwent once, on a NYC subway train at the 34th Street/6th Avenue station. That was more than 45 years ago, and the memory lingers on. I can only imagine what an unsuspecting female’s reaction would be.

I have no idea if air marshals continue to accompany all or most flights, but I were involved with security for Air India, I would work to address that issue – and let them, not ordinary cabin crew, deal with super rude fliers.

The year 2015 saw close to 11,000 “Air Rage” incidents, globally

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Former U.S. Senator from New York  Alfonse D’Amato Dissing An Airline. (Photo: The New York Post)

The New York Post earlier this week framed an article around an incident where former New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato encouraged fellow passengers on a long-delayed flight to deplane with him in protest. The article went on to note D’Amato was hardly alone in being upset to the point of sparking an “incident” over something to do with air travel.

In 2015, according to figures collected globally by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) passengers protested, or became unruly, no fewer than 10,854 times – a 16% increase over 2014’s incident count. Frighteningly, the 2015 incident rate is more than 950% higher than the 1994 count of 1,132 incidents!

What’s going on? What’s causing the amazing increase in “air rage” incidents?

Several things, actually. In a successful effort to cram more passengers into fewer planes, airlines have reduced the point of absurdity the “pitch” of seats – the distance between a given point on a seat and the exact same point on the seat forward or aft of it. While this isn’t, according to “the seat guru,” the exact equivalent of “leg room,” it’s usually a pretty good approximation.

To generate more revenue, back a few years ago, when jet fuel prices – like gasoline/petrol prices were going through the roof, airlines starting eliminating such long-time “freebies” as nuts, meals on all but the shortest flights, blankets and pillows, two-bag limits and whatever else they could sell instead of giving away.

While fliers have squawked to no avail, the airlines have reaped a fortune in “extra” revenue – to the point that losses incurred before and for a few years after the turn of the century are, like the freebies, a thing of the past.

Sadly, so, to an amazing degree, is consideration for passengers’ health: According to “The Credit Repair and Debt Reducer Expert’s blog,” blankets, pillows and even floors aren’t cleaned as regularly or as well as used to be the case – resulting in germs being freely spread from feet to mouths and… well, you get the picture.

Is there any (realistic) hope these issues will change, hopefully for the better, in the foreseeable future? Not really. Similarly, plane overcrowding – with less side-to-side room and even another row of seats compounding the problem.

But as The Credit Report and Debt Reducer’s blog noted, Skype and similar services have largely eliminated the need for a lot of business travel. People need learn about such options and use them.

A very successful blogger I know, no doubt in part to avoid the hassles of air travel, last year drove twice back and forth between Connecticut and Oregon – with side trips in various parts of the country – giving himself a break from the commute from his bedroom to his office, getting in touch with businesses and business people he writes about, and not having to repeatedly cram himself into a tiny plane seat. Fortunately, he did so at a time when gasoline prices were lower than they’ve been in years. But I’m betting he’ll maintain his long-distance driving routine this year, even as gas prices vacillate between low and not-too-bad.

Who’s tempted to fly these days if there’s an alternative – like not going at all, or taking the 60 mph/96.5 kph route? The latter is almost as “phoning it in” via a Skype on online chat connection!

For a couple of year, a lot of years ago, I used to be on the road – often on several flights a day – most days of two weeks (or more) every month. I can’t imagine how I managed it, in the late ’70’s-early ’80’s. I totally couldn’t now.

(An aside: For the first half of the ’70’s, I lived in London. Back then, no matter which travel option you chose – bus-to-air-to-underground-or-taxi, train-to-air-to-train, train-to-boat-to-train, the trip from London to Paris occupied the better part of a daylight day. My wife-of-three-years and I are hoping to make our first-ever real vacation be, soon, a return to London than a Eurostar (train)ride, of 2.5 hours, from Central London to Central Paris. Even having made that trip before, I will undoubtedly be nearly as amazed as she’ll be at the ‘magic’ of being able to cross under 30 miles of water (The English Channel), in next to no time, to get to a different country.)

A Less-Than-Friendly Lounge Preceded United’s ‘Friendly Skies’ At Newark Airport Last Week

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Whoops!

I recall once seeing an airplane crew member in an argument with one of the ground crew as the latter was trying to deliver something for the in-flight catering service. I thought, “They do this every day! How can they not get the job done smoothly?”

One of the jobs done infrequently, but just as important as the daily tasks, is ensuring that necessary licenses are updated as needed. Someone at United Airlines slipped up in that department recently, and failed to renew the liquor license for the carrier’s club room at Newark Liberty International Airport’s Terminal C. So, for two days last week, passengers passing through that lounge in one of United’s busiest terminals had to do without the free drinks the carrier usually dispenses there.

No beer, wine or spirits could be served – even for free! – until someone made a trip to Newark’s City Hall to get the matter sorted out. That happened in time for Friday morning travelers to innocently – most of them can be presumed to have not been flying out of there on Wednesday or Thursday – carry on consuming free cocktails before jetting off. (And yes, many fliers do enjoy getting a ‘lift’ before being taken airborne!)

“We resumed service this morning and apologize to our customers for the inconvenience,” United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said on Friday.

A Consequence of Over-Eating: Trying To Fit in Smaller Plane Seats

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Stephanie Rosenbloom, a New York Times reporter, has back-handedly pointed out why frequent or even infrequent flyers should be paying more attention to what they’re eating while on land. (They’re not eating nearly as much as they used to when in the air, as airlines have cut back on everything but fares!)

The shrinking-seat problem – they’ve gone from a width of 18 inches in the 1970’s to 16 or so inches today, while seat ‘pitch’, the distance from the back of one to the seat of the one behind it, has shrunk from 35 to 31 inches – has become so severe that Congress is being asked to rule on the matter as it considers how it should deal with the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. Like most acts of Congress, you want to know as much about this one as about how sausage is made.)

Airlines want, naturally enough, to be able to squeeze as many people onto planes as they possibly can. Never mind that this often means compressing individuals’ space to something like Jews had in freight cars on their way to concentration camps or gas chambers.

Nevertheless, as all that onboard shrinking has occurred, the around-the-waist story is diametrically opposite: Men, according to Rosenbloom’s Times article, weight 30 pounds more, on average, than they did in the ‘70’s, when the airlines were deregulated. This has, of course, in addition to putting peanut farmers at risk, presented medical challenges those consumers of . . . what?

What is it American flyers are eating more of? Everything, various reports suggest, except the fresh fruits and vegetables that could be helping keep that waistline in check.

Men’s gain amounts to an unhealthy upshot from 166 to 196 pounds. And women have fared little better: They are, on average, up from 140 to 166 pounds, a belt-busting 26 pounds.

Eateries in airports don’t help: Most of them offer the same sort of calorie-heavy, sugar- and salt-saturated stuff to be found in fast food places across the country.

Meanwhile, passengers are less able to carry healthy food onto planes because of restrictions by the airlines themselves and the so-called Homeland Security teams who seemingly assume nearly every edible is a potential bomb.

(Did you ever notice that we never had a ‘homeland’ before 9-11? The insidious nature of ‘security creep’ is costing us freedom losses the Founding Fathers never could have imagined!

(‘Homeland’ has a Nazi-like ring to it – virtually a cause to rally around, and endure, while freedoms are bit by bit snuck aware from us. Think about that.)

U.S.-based  and other airlines continue to consolidate, supposedly to save money, but not for fliers – to protect the jobs and often outrageous perks of people running those corporations. And, sadly, workers’ jobs too often are lost these days through the greed of company officials and stock holders who clearly look after only their own interests – not those of the humans being around the country day in and day out.

I was a frequent flyer for 20 or so years. ‘Did far more miles than anyone should have to. ‘Got some great perks from the frequent-flyer miles programs, but in the end, I’d have preferred to be home, working as I now do – from a home office, well clear of New York City taxi- or helicopter-rides to airports, being able to ‘dress down’ and often sleep in beyond the start of the ‘normal’ business day.

But I do need to do something about that extra 20 or so pounds I’ve put on!

And Congress needs to do somethings about airlines’ shrinking space for those who pay its bills.