Joel Petlin

Joel PetlinCommunity Contributor

Joel Petlin resides in Monsey, New York with his wife. They have five children and three grandchildren. Joel grew up in Southern California and has degrees from UCLA, SUNY New Paltz and Cardozo School of Law. Since 1992, he has been employed by the Kiryas Joel School District in Orange County, New York, a public school program serving hundreds of students with special needs. He was appointed School Superintendent in 2007, and currently supervises a staff of more than 400 employees. His interests include education, politics, law, religion, public policy and seeing the Mets win the World Series.

read more

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Our Selective Outrage Over Airplane Seat Change Requests

Last week, the Twitter world exploded as an in-flight romance was live tweeted at 35,000 feet on an Alaska Air flight from LaGuardia to Dallas. Over the course of the four-hour flight, we were treated to a play-by-play from two people who had switched seats in order to sit next to each other as they described a relationship budding in front of them, played out in over 50 tweets. The exchange went viral, as millions viewed and 900,000 people liked the Twitter thread, with the hashtags #PrettyPlaneGirl, #HunkyPlaneGuy and #CatchingFlightsAndFeelings trending for days. The entire story received international media attention with glowing features on Good Morning America, the Today Show, BBC World and numerous other outlets.

In contrast, only one week earlier, media attention was focused on a different airplane interaction — only this time, the reaction was outrage and condemnation. That interaction played out on El Al and other airlines, and it involved Hasidic men who requested seat changes to avoid sitting with women they weren’t related to. Their requests, based on religious grounds, were either rejected — causing flight delays — or permitted in order to avoid flight delays. In both scenarios, Hasidic men were roundly attacked in news articles, editorials and, of course, on social media. Pundits applauded El Al’s newly announced policy that anyone requesting an on-board seat change will be immediately removed from their flight.

Both of these stories begin the identical way, with someone asking another passenger on a flight if they wouldn’t mind switching seats. So why is the reaction to the two stories so very different? Is switching seats for love somehow more noble than switching seats for faith?

On nearly every flight I’ve ever flown on, I have witnessed people switching seats. Sometimes it’s for a window view, or for leg room on the aisle, or to sit with a friend, spouse or child if they were assigned separate seats. In most of these scenarios, the arrangements are made and the requests are simply accommodated by the passengers. It is only with Hasidic seat-switchers that we are asked to analyze the motivation for the request and judge whether it’s worthy of accommodation.

I am in no way suggesting that passengers should ever be forced out of an assigned seat, nor should any flight ever be delayed by an unruly passenger who refuses to be seated in their assigned seat. I am also not commenting on the interpretations of Jewish law which either permit or prohibit a female sitting between two males or a male sitting between two females. That debate should be left to Rabbinic Scholars and not to opinion writers in Jewish newspapers or on social media.

My only point is that deeply held religious beliefs deserve to be accommodated, no less than any other reason for a requested in-flight seat exchange. The two seat-moving scenarios each started in identical fashion, though for very different reasons. So why the double standard?

Let’s start the hashtag #CatchingFlightsAndKeepingFaith to show respect and accommodation, wherever possible.

This story "Why Not Accommodate Ultra-Orthodox Men On Flights?" was written by Joel Petlin.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

Our Selective Outrage Over Airplane Seat Change Requests

Thank you!

This article has been sent!