Woman Sues EasyJet Airlines After Being Asked to Move Seat at Request of Ultra-Orthodox Male Passenger

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This was the second time Melanie Wolfson says she was asked by EasyJet to give up her seat at the behest of an Ultra-Orthodox male passenger.

British low-cost airline EasyJet has been sued by a female passenger who says she was asked by the crew on a flight to give up her seat to accommodate the ultra-Orthodox Jewish male passenger who refused to sit next to her. Melanie Wolfson, a 38-year-old, professional fundraiser, was on a flight from Tel Aviv to London when she was asked to move her seat and was “insulted and humiliated” by the request, she said.

According to the lawsuit, filed by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), Wolfson paid extra for an aisle seat on her flight last October. An ultra-Orthodox man and his son, who were sitting in the row when she arrived, asked Wolfson to switch seats with a man a few rows ahead. 

As an incentive to move, the flight attendant offered Wolfson a free hot drink. Wolfson said she reluctantly agreed to move her seat because she did not want to hold up the flight and felt that she had little choice in the matter. 

“It was the first time in my adult life that I was discriminated against for being a woman,” she told Haaretz newspaper.

Passengers on the flight were watching the exchange, but no one intervened, Wolfson said. 

The suit claims that several of the flight attendants later told Wolfson, during the flight, that women were often asked to switch seats to accommodate ultra-Orthodox men.

“I would not have had any problem whatsoever switching seats if it were to allow members of a family or friends to sit together, but the fact that I was being asked to do this because I was a woman was why I refused,” Wolfson said.

Wolfson is also asking in the suit that EasyJet bans its cabin crew from asking women to switch seats because of their gender.

This was not the first incident that happened to Wolfson on an EasyJet flight, she said. In December, two months after her first ordeal, she was again asked to move seats by two ultra-Orthodox men during a flight to London. Wolfson said when she refused their request, two female passengers agreed to switch their seats instead with the two men sitting next to her. 

According to the suit, members of the crew again offered Wolfson a free hot drink but they did not get involved or try to defend her right to stay in the seat for which she paid.

Wolfson said she reached out to the airline on both occasions and when they failed to respond, she decided to take action.

Now, Wolfson is suing the airline for violation of Israeli law, which prohibits discrimination against customers based on race, religion, nationality, land of origin, gender, sexual orientation, political views, or personal status. She is claiming compensation of 66,438 shekels (equivalent to $19,811.54 in American currency) in the lawsuit. The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) that is representing Wolfson won a similar case in 2017 against El Al Israeli Airlines.

EasyJet is not based in Israel; however, according to a report, lawyers will argue the airline was subject to Israeli law while its plane was on the ground at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where the incident took place. 

Wolfson is not alone in her fight against the airlines on this topic. Ultra-Orthodox men who refuse to take their seats next to women, demanding changes in seating and sometimes causing delays, has become an growing problem for airlines flying in and out of Israel.

Three years ago, Renee Rabinowitz, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor, won a landmark ruling against El Al Airlines, for gender discrimination.

The Israeli judge hearing the case said that “under absolutely no circumstances can a crew member ask a passenger to move from their designated seat because the adjacent passenger doesn’t want to sit next to them due to their gender," the Guardian reported.

At the time, IRAC said there have been close to 7,500 emails sent to El Al airlines by members of the public objecting to requests made to female passengers to change seats. 

EasyJet did not respond to Inside Edition Digital's request for comment. 

In a statement that appeared in the Guardian, EasyJet said, “We take claims of this nature very seriously. Whilst it would be inappropriate to comment, as this matter is currently the subject of legal proceedings, we do not discriminate on any grounds.”

EasyJet is one of Europe’s most popular airlines and serves over 35 countries. This year will mark its 25th year in business.