Elderly Couple Claims They Were Removed From American Airlines Flight Over Prayer Shawl

·2 min read
Image via Getty/Lin Chaohui/Xinhua
Image via Getty/Lin Chaohui/Xinhua

A Jewish couple says they were removed from an American Airlines flight after they refused to put their religious items on them floor.

According New York Post, the incident took place on Flight 322 back in August, when Roberto and Elana Birman were returning to their Brooklyn home from Miami. Prior to takeoff, a flight attendant reportedly began checking the overhead bins when she came across Roberto’s small Tallit bag, which contained his prayer book and shawl. The husband and wife claim the flight attendant pulled out the bag and asked, “Whose is this?” Roberto says he informed the crew member it belonged to him, and she threw the bag on his lap and told him to place it under his seat.

Roberto recalled telling the flight attendant he was an Orthodox Jew and could not place the religious items on the ground. The attendant allegedly dismissed his explanation, and told him, “It doesn’t matter,” before shouting and pointing her finger at the 76-year-old.

“It’s considered disgraceful,” Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin told the Post about putting the religious items on the ground. “It would be like taking a Bible or a Koran and dumping it on the floor.”

According to the Post, the pilot eventually came over to deal with the situation, but never uttered a word to the Birmans. Moments later, a ground crew member was called to the scene and urged the couple to follow him off the plane. As soon as they stepped off, the staffer allegedly shouted, “Close the gate!”

“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me in America,” said Roberto, who moved to the United States from Argentina in 1985. “We use these items every single day to pray.”

The couple has since filed a lawsuit against American Airlines, seeking unspecified damages.

“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,” their attorney, Brad Gerstman, told the Post. “The flight attendant and pilot’s conduct was as offensive as it was illogical.”

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