In honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday, let me paraphrase a favorite quotation: I have a dream that one day my children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by their religion but by the content of their character. And as William H. Taft, the 27th president of the United States said: “Anti semitism is a noxious weed and should be cut out. It has no place in America.”
Recent claims that Delta Airlines has discriminated against Jewish passengers and crew on flights to Israel based on ethnicity alone leaves me stupefied. On a parallel issue, a top-level El Al platinum card-holding frequent flyer was accused by El Al’s chief purser of violent behavior and being forced to disembark. Mr. Moses, a brown-skinned citizen of the United Kingdom who flies business class between London and Tel Aviv almost monthly, was stunned at the allegation. One would think, Moses might say, that airlines are in the business of not only increasing their revenues and generating profits for shareholders, but also of enhancing their customers’ experience both on the ground and in the air.
A recent lawsuit filed by four of Delta’s flight attendants has ricocheted throughout the world and led to questions about the veracity of such claims of discrimination.
The most incendiary allegation – which says the airline profiles passengers and considers Jewish or Israeli passengers to be problematic – is repulsive.
One of the plaintiffs, Ms. Cynthia Fukelman, asserted that the airline forced religious passengers to check their hats and other religious garments into the plane’s baggage hold and denied boarding to passengers who refused. She also contended that she was fired from Delta because of her race and connection to Israel.
The other three plaintiffs avowed that the discrimination manifested itself in their being denied promotions due to their ethnicity. A Delta spokesman responded to the lawsuit by saying: “The company strongly rejects the charges of discrimination outlined in the lawsuit and will defend itself against them. As an international airline, which connects people all over the world, Delta appreciates diversity in all its forms and has zero tolerance for discrimination.”
Delta Airlines has been flying to Israel for many years.
In fact, it once had daily flights from Tel Aviv to both New York and Atlanta. The airline still operates its daily flight to JFK in New York, and has earned a reputation for quality service and a vibrant network throughout North America. Nonetheless, I have received dozens of complaints against Delta during its years with Ben-Gurion Airport, ranging from shoddy service to poor meals and lost luggage. Clients have requested compensation for missed connections, delayed flights and loss of time. One client accused Delta of having inferior equipment after he strained himself trying to squeeze an oversized bag into the overhead bin. Another client complained that there was no wheelchair available upon her arrival at JFK and by the time one was brought she missed her connecting flight.
But we have never received a complaint from a religious passenger who felt discriminated against, nor has any passenger even insinuated feeling they were being profiled. I realize this doesn’t dismiss the lawsuit outright. These are serious charges and I expect Delta to provide far more serious answers than the tepid reply of their spokesman. Will this have a ripple effect among the flying public? Time will tell, but in the interim, none of our clients have refused to fly Delta from Tel Aviv.
ISRAELI FLYERS do not have a sterling reputation. One of my favorite stories comes from travelers who recorded an unruly Israeli who was berating a steward mid-air over a chocolate bar. The ruckus made its way to the press when the video appeared online. It showed a female passenger shouting at a steward for not heeding her demand to get her a chocolate bar from the dutyfree cart while the steward was helping another passenger.
The stereotypical Israeli passenger is considered boisterous, with a penchant for standing in the aisle when the seatbelt signed is turned on. I have not heard, though, of any airline banning an entire nationality due to a lack of common civility on the part of those who belong to it.
Moses would have you believe that El Al’s level of tolerance is far higher than Delta’s. On a flight to London, he boarded an El Al Boeing 777 and took a window seat in the front section, using his economy-class ticket.
His first mistake was having the temerity to go into the business section and open the cabinet where cushions are stored to take an extra one to alleviate his back pain.
A flight attendant approached and asked if he needed assistance. His quickly reply – that he could do it himself and he had already procured the cushion – was not appreciated. The attendant insisted, saying she would prefer to help. Moses declined again, saying he still had two good hands and didn’t want to disturb the attendants. He did add, however, that if she wanted to help, a bottle of water and two aspirins would be greatly appreciated. Twice she said, “Excuse me,” but did not acknowledge his request. Moses then made his second mistake, tapping her arm and squeezing it gently to get her undivided attention. The attendant responded by simply turning and walking away, leaving a bewildered Moses behind.
Not content to let the matter rest, Moses requested that another flight attendant summon the flight manager so he could report the first attendant’s insouciance.
When the supervisor arrived, Moses repeated his litany of complaints and asked for the attendant’s name so a formal complaint could be lodged. The flight manager tried to calm down Moses, reiterating that he was there to assist, but refused to give the attendant’s name. From there, the situation deteriorated further. After a few moments’ absence, the flight manager returned to tell Moses he was being declared a violent person.
A few minutes later, the captain came over the PA system to say a violent passenger was on board and the crew would needed to get him disembarked. Soon after, a gate supervisor came over to suggest that Moses either disembark willingly or the police would soon board the aircraft and he might be embarrassed by their use of force. Fervent in his belief that any attempts to explain to police would only further delay the flight, Moses grabbed his carry-on bag and disembarked of his own accord.
Two policemen greeted Moses at the door to the aircraft to question him about the incident. One of the officers asked the station manager, while Moses was present, if the stewardess wished to make a formal complaint against him. No request was forthcoming, so the station manager accompanied Moses through customs back to the station manager’s office. He arranged a flight for Moses for the next evening and organized a taxi to take him to Tel Aviv and back the following day to Ben-Gurion Airport.
Upon his arrival in London the next day, Moses contacted the head of El Al’s office there to register a complaint. In fact, he placed a phone call directly to the head of the airline. After several days, Moses was given 30 minutes to explain to the airline chief in minute detail what transpired. He was adamant in saying they were recording his phone call and that justice would soon be served. He was thus a bit confused when a few days later, a representative of the Israel Police contacted Moses to ask that upon his return he present himself at the police station. Going there without an attorney or a friend was his next mistake.
DURING MR. MOSES next sojourn in Israel, he visited the Israel Police. He was told the stewardess raised serious issues and that Moses attempted to do her bodily harm when he physically assaulted her. Flabbergasted by the accusation, Moses stammered that while he did admit to touching the stewardess and squeezing her arm, it was only to draw her attention.
Let me make this crystal-clear: Never touch a flight attendant! It is rude, boorish and insulting. You don’t poke or prod and you never, ever, grab an attendant.
In fact, this cardinal rule should be applied to anyone with whom you work or by whom you are being served.
Just last month, a first-class passenger on an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland to San Diego accused of touching a flight attendant’s buttocks was banned from the airline. The passenger said he touched the woman politely on her back to get her attention and order a drink. Does he not understand that ordering a drink doesn’t involve touching? Personally, I find that a simple “excuse me” usually works if non-verbal means fail.
The police offered Moses time to consider his options and after a few days they again reached out to him. If he agreed to sign a confession admitting to assault, he would get a suspended sentence of six months, at the end of which the record would be expunged.
Someone in the travel industry recommended that Moses contact the British Embassy before acquiescing to the request. It was proposed that perhaps he no longer fly with El Al and transfer his loyalty to British Airways, which also flies between London and Tel Aviv.
He rebuffed both suggestions. He foolishly accepted the advice not to sign the document and said if the police were determined to charge him with assault, he would fight it in court. After a few more calls from the police asking that Moses come in, the calls stopped.
Moses is confident that had there been any violence on the flight, or if any witnesses saw him “attack” the flight attendant, El Al would not have been so helpful afterward. He is positive that if he had not made a verbal complaint to El Al, the stewardess would not have “created her lies.”
It reminds me of what a favorite professor used to say: “If only closed minds came with closed mouths.”Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem, firstname.lastname@example.org