The last time I flew on a commercial plane, a toddler threw an iPhone at me.
The girl looked to be about a year and half old, and her mother was very apologetic. I smiled as I handed the phone back – it had bounced off my shoulder – and joked, “Your daughter has a good arm. Maybe she’ll play baseball someday.”
These things happen. As anyone who flies regularly knows, you have to roll with what comes. Over the years I’ve endured mechanical delays, tight connections, scary turbulence and a flight attendant who, upon reaching the back of the plane, announced that there were no more snacks for us – not even a tiny bag of pretzels.
Seasoned travelers learn to deal with it. But here’s one thing I’m not going to put up with: giving up my seat or being moved to another one because a religious fundamentalist has decided he can’t tolerate sitting next to me.
Of course, I don’t have to worry about this because I’m a man. But lately, a lot of women have encountered this problem thanks to an ultra-conservative faction of Hasidic Judaism whose members have decided that they can’t sit next to women on commercial flights. Their antics are increasingly inconveniencing a lot of passengers.
As The New York Times reported last week, “A growing number of airline passengers, particularly on trips between the United States and Israel, are now sharing stories of conflicts between ultra-Orthodox Jewish men trying to follow their faith and women just hoping to sit down.”
The Times reported that several flights from New York to Israel were delayed or disrupted recently because Hasidic men would not take their seats. Sometimes other passengers will agree to a seat shuffle to accommodate these men, but more and more women are saying they aren’t going to do it. I don’t blame them. (It’s worth noting that not all Hasidic men feel this way. It’s just a tiny minority that refuses to sit next to any women except their family members.)
This is yet another example of religious "accommodations" run amok – and the unrealistic expectations these demands have created.
It is the year 2015. Women travel freely on buses, subways, airplanes, trains, ferries, etc. Anyone who uses these modes of public transport should expect to encounter women. You may end up sitting next to one. If you aren’t willing to deal with that, don’t travel by these methods.
The flap over airplane seating is a perfect example of how quickly the demand for religious accommodations can get out of hand. We need some common sense rules. Let’s say the fellow next to me on the plane is wearing religious garb, such as a robe, a clerical collar, a turban, etc. That’s no skin off my nose, so more power to him. If he wants to read a religious text or pray during the flight, again, it’s not my concern. But if he suddenly starts hollering, “My religion forbids me to sit next to an advocate of separation of church and state! I demand that he be moved!” we’ve got a problem. He is now inconveniencing me and infringing on the rights of others.
If someone else wants to switch seats with him, I have no problem with that. But I’m under no obligation to move – and neither are the women whom religious zealots have decided are somehow unclean or just too sexually tempting.
Airlines are wondering how to deal with this issue. Some of them are quietly coping with it behind the scenes and reshuffling seats without passengers even knowing about it. But in a few cases, ultra-Orthodox men actually stood in the aisles and refused to sit down until a woman moved.
The government has a stake in what’s going on here. Airlines are public conveyances and may not discriminate against passengers. In addition, the government has a vested interest in ensuring that the nation’s airlines are operated in a safe manner and that flights arrive on time as often as possible.
So how should airlines deal with this problem? I have a suggestion. Flight attendants should memorize this phrase: “Sir, you have five seconds to take your seat. Otherwise, you will be removed from this flight.”