By Harriet Sherwood, theguardian.com
EasyJet has paid compensation to a British-Israeli woman who was asked to change seats on a flight from Tel Aviv after ultra-Orthodox Jewish men objected to sitting next to her.
The UK-based low-cost airline said its policy of not accommodating requests from male passengers to re-seat female passengers had not been followed in the case. It said it would give crews additional training on the issue.
Melanie Wolfson, a professional fundraiser who lives in Tel Aviv after moving to Israel from the UK, launched a case against easyJet last year. She claimed 66,438 shekels (almost £15,000) compensation in a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the Israel Religious Action Center (Irac).
On the flight in 2019, Wolfson said an ultra-Orthodox man and his son, who were sitting in the row when she arrived, asked her to switch seats with a man a few rows ahead.
Last year she said she had been “insulted and humiliated” by the request but agreed to switch seats out of concern that the flight might be delayed on her account.
On a second easyJet flight to London, Wolfson was again asked to move seats by two ultra-Orthodox men. She refused their request, but two female passengers agreed to change seats with the two men sitting next to her. Members of the cabin crew did not intervene or try to defend her right to stay seated, she claimed.
On both occasions, Wolfson complained to the airline. She later claimed violation of Israeli law, which prohibits discrimination against customers on the basis of race, religion, nationality, land of origin, gender, sexual orientation, political views or personal status.
Although easyJet is not based in Israel, Wolfson’s lawyers would have argued that the airline was subject to Israeli law while its plane was on the ground at Ben Gurion airport.
A joint statement from easyJet and Wolfson issued on Wednesday said: “EasyJet is aware of the issue where some male passengers say they are uncomfortable sitting next to women, who are not in their immediate family, due to their religious beliefs and as a result request that a crew member ask female passengers to move seats.
“EasyJet does not believe that female passengers should be asked to move seats simply based on their gender. The airline has a policy to politely inform any customer who raises this request that this will not be accommodated. Unfortunately, according to Melanie Wolfson this policy was not followed in her case.
“EasyJet is committed to tackling any discrimination on flights …. We take this very seriously and in addition to compensating Ms Wolfson for her experience, easyJet intends to implement additional crew training and renew our crew guidelines in order to prevent these incidents from happening in the future.”
A spokesperson for Irac said the organisation would continue to pursue the issue “on behalf of women who have been discriminated against because of their gender”.