American Airlines is facing a lawsuit for forcing an elderly Brooklyn couple to leave a flight when these passengers declined to put under their seats their bag holding a sacred prayer shawl inside.
The “embarrassing” incident occurred to Roberto, 76, and Elana, 71, in August, when they were on their way from Miami reaching home on Flight 322, the New York Post reported.
The couple was sitting face-to-face in aisle seats, waiting for departure, when a flight attendant came to look over their overhead bins as usual flight procedure. Then, she dragged a Tallit bag from the bin before asking: “Whose is this?”
Right after receiving the answer from Roberto, she tossed the bag on his lap and forced him to put it under their seat.
In response, Roberto explained that he was not allowed to put that sacred shawl on the floor, saying: “It’s a religious item; it cannot go under the seat.”
The elderly man took out his baseball cap thus showing his kippah covering his head, proving him an Orthodox Jew.
Beyond the couple’s expectation, the attendant replied by “screaming” and “pointing her finger,” saying, “It’s doesn’t matter,” Roberto recalled.
Roberto could not hide their shock when “this was happening” to him “in America,” indicating that “We use these items every single day to pray.”
Elana even compared the attendant’s command to asking Christian to “throw a cross on the floor.”
According to the couple, Jewish law prohibits placing anything like a Tallit bag on the floor.
No one showed up at the time to say a word to protect them, making the couple even more shocked and embarrassed.
The pilot appeared but said nothing before summoning a ground crew member to come. He asked them to follow him, leaving the carrier.
“Close the gate!” the crew member commanded his coworkers, right after the couple stepped out of the plane.
The couple was abandoned with no assistance from the airline, from food to finding a place to rest. Even Roberto’s diabetes medications were still in the checked luggage.
As a hurricane swept in, the couple had no other choice but to get on a taxi to a friend’s house.
Elana recounted, “What are we, criminals?” while her husband “was devastated.”
Roberto mentioned the flight attendant as their source of tragedy, saying: “She made me so nervous. I was shaking.”
The couple, who left Argentina—where they suffered anti-semitism quite frequently—and have lived in the U.S. since 1985, are taking American Airlines responsible for undetermined losses.
The couple’s attorney, Brad Gerstman, said: “My clients were ejected from the flight based on the prejudices and complete lack of sensitivity of American Airlines employees for reasons wholly unrelated to security.”
“The flight attendant and pilot’s conduct was as offensive as it was illogical,” she added.