A Canadian woman says she is looking for an apology from Porter Airlines after a flight attendant asked her to change seats recently when a male passenger, citing religious reasons, allegedly said he didn’t want to sit next to a woman.
Christine Flynn, 31, says she was on a flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Toronto Monday when an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man boarded the plane and asked that his seating preference be accommodated.
She said the man didn’t make eye contact with her and looked slightly confused as he walked toward his seat.
“He swiveled around to the gentleman across the aisle and said, ‘Change,’” Flynn told the CBC.
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She said it seemed that there was a bit of a language barrier and the man was having trouble communicating exactly what he wanted but it became clear that he didn’t want to sit next to her because she is a woman.
She told CBC that she was unwilling to accommodate the man because she felt he had been rude to her and because he just walked on the plane and wanted others to move for him.
“He could have made a plan, he could have put in a request,” she said in a Wednesday interview with CBC Radio. “When someone doesn't look at you, and when someone doesn't acknowledge you as person because of your gender, you're a lot less willing to be accommodating.”
A flight attendant eventually approached to ask if there was a problem.
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“I said, ‘This man is refusing to sit next to me because I am a woman,’” Flynn said. “At that point, another man behind ... offered to switch with me and the airline attendant said, ‘Would you be willing to move? and I said, ‘Absolutely not. This is ridiculous.’”
Eventually the Jewish man was seated next to another male passenger.
Flynn said the flight attendant should have understood that it was offensive to ask her to move because of her gender.
“I have a problem with that,” she told CBC. “He [the flight attendant] probably, maybe, didn't realize that asking a woman to move because the fact she had a uterus made the man next to her uncomfortable ... I don't think he even would have put it together that that's kind of insulting and maybe even discriminatory.”
Flynn added that she wanted an apology from the airline.
“There really should be a policy around this," she said. "If people are going to get on flights and demand that they sit next to someone of the same sex, there should be an area where they can go. I should not have to move because someone has a problem with my uterus.”
Brad Cicero, a Porter Airlines spokesman, confirmed with CBC that the incident did occur but insisted such events are rare.
“Religious preferences are very rarely a factor,” he said in an email.
The flight attendant "did his best to manage the situation as efficiently and reasonably as possible in order to avoid an unnecessary delay,” according to Cicero.
While Porter Airlines may not have to contend with religious preferences often, other airline passengers report it is becoming more of an issue.
A September 2014 story from The Huffington Post reported an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv encountered delays after a group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men boarded the flight and refused to take seats next women.
A similar incident occurred in December 2014 on a Delta flight out of New York, also bound for Tel Aviv, according to The Independent.
And in April of this year, The New York Times ran a story saying that the incidents were increasing in regularity, particularly on flights from New York to Israel.