El al plane

An El Al plane in-flight

The row over all-male seating on flights to Israel escalated this week, as an 81-year old Holocaust survivor sued El Al for gender discrimination after cabin crew asked her to move seats so an Orthodox man wouldn’t have to sit next to her.

Renee Rabinowitz was flying from Newark in the United States to Tel Aviv in December last year when she prompted to a different area of the plane, and told the New York Times that this was an ideological battle she was happy to fight in court.

“Why does it matter?” asked the octogenarian and trained lawyer. “I’m 81 years old. And he says ‘it’s in the Torah.’ I felt minimised. For me this is not personal. It is intellectual, ideological and legal.”

She added: “Here I am, an older woman, educated, I’ve been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him? Why?”

Advocates from civil rights group Israel Religious Action Centre are supporting her defence, due to the increased incidence of airliners asking passengers to move so that strictly Orthodox men do not have to sit next to women.

However, the issue is a contentious one, not least because different countries have different gender discrimination laws.

Israel’s flag carrier El Al, which has suffered severe delays as a result of men refusing to sit next to women, says it does not discriminate against passengers, and deals with customer complaints on an individual basis.