El Al has bumpy week, with cheap tickets snafu

Accidental online deal, discrimination claim plague the Israeli airline.

August 10, 2012 03:37
3 minute read.
El Al airplanes sit on the runway

El Al airplanes sit on the runway 370 (R). (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)


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It’s been a turbulent few days for El Al, as threats of a sexual discrimination lawsuit followed an online mix-up that saw hundreds of passengers snap up tickets that had been erroneously marked down to a fraction of their cost.

El Al announced Thursday night that while it is still examining what led to the fiasco, it will honor the unusually cheap tickets.

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“Although a review of this occurrence has not been finalized, a decision was made to accommodate El Al passengers who purchased these low fares because we value our reputation of offering excellent customer service,” General Manager Danny Saadon said in a statement. “Hopefully, we have provided an opportunity to many first timers to visit Israel as well as reconnect family and friends.”

It was revealed on Thursday that an attorney for Floridian Debra Ryder sent a letter to El Al on Tuesday, demanding NIS 50,000 in compensation, saying she was forced to give up her seat on El Al Flight 8202 from New York to Tel Aviv in mid-June, after a haredi man refused to sit next to a woman.

In the letter, Ryder’s attorney Orly Erez Lukhovski of the Religious Action Center, which is affiliated with the Reform movement, said that when Ryder boarded the flight she saw that an ultra-Orthodox man had taken her place. The letter says that Ryder told a flight steward named Roi that the man was sitting in her place and refused to get up.

The flight steward then asked the man to get up and when he refused, asked Ryder to sit elsewhere temporarily so the flight could depart on time, the letter said.

Lukhovski said that because of medical reasons, her client must sit in an aisle seat, but was asked to sit in a middle seat nonetheless. She also said that Ryder did not receive her vegetarian meal due to the seat mix-up. According to Lukhovski, the flight attendant did not ask the man to get up later on; instead he apologized to Ryder and gave her some free snacks.

Lukhovski said that Ryder issued a complaint to El Al customer service later in June, and spoke to a customer service representative who said the company had encountered the problem before and had spoken to a rabbi for advice on how to handle the issue.

In the letter, Lukhovski said Ryder’s treatment by El Al “reveals discriminatory policy on El Al flights, done with the cooperation of the flight crew.”

“El Al is obligated to safeguard equality and respect in its treatment of all of its passengers.

El Al stewards are supposed to ensure that women will not be kicked out of their place because of the demand of a haredi passenger,” the letter added.

Lukhovski said she had not received a reply from El Al.

Contacted by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, El Al said the company implements a strict ban on discrimination against passengers and that its flight stewards deal with a diverse range of customers and demands every day, and does their best to assist all customers.

The company added: “We regret the attempt to drag El Al into the issue of discrimination against women, as it is known that we respect all of our customers as they are.”

The letter from Ryder’s attorney and the American passenger’s interview on Army Radio Thursday morning came after an embarrassing fiasco for El Al that saw thousands of round-trip tickets bought online last week at unheard-of bargains.

El Al said on its English-language Twitter page Wednesday: “Thanks for your patience. Details/decisions re incorrect fares that were briefly sold on Monday are not finalized. We will update tomorrow.”

That statement came after a previous tweet on Monday in which El Al said, “An outside company posted incorrect fares on travel websites, so all tickets sold will indeed be honored.”

The error resulted in round-trip tickets from North America to Tel Aviv in the coming winter sold online for as cheap as $350.

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