A couple flying home from Miami to Newark on American Airlines flight 322 was booted off the evening departure when they refused a flight attendant request to place their prayer shawl underneath the seat in front of them.
According to a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the passengers, their tallit bag was in the overhead bin above their seat. A flight attendant came by, took it out of the bin and asked whose it was. When they raised their hand, the crewmember tossed it at them and said it had to go underneath the seat.
Unclear from the story, it’s a small bag, I’m going to assume though that the overhead bin was full, that the bag was protruding out, and this was the quickest and simplest way the flight attendant had to close the bin so the aircraft could push back on time.
The passenger explained it’s a religious item and it cannot be placed on the ground. The shawl would have been fine on a lap, but since there was a bag that had to be placed under the seat in front of them or in the overhead bin. And the flight attendant had just pulled it out of the bin.
“It’s a religious item, it cannot go under the seat,” Roberto explained, removing his baseball cap to reveal his kippah covering his head and explaining that as an Orthodox Jew, he is forbidden to place the precious shawl on the floor.
“It doesn’t matter,” the attendant allegedly sniffed.
Tallit, Credit: Mushki Brichta via Wikimedia Commons
They were kicked off the aircraft for not complying. They had to spend the night in Miami at their own expense without their checked bags.
American Airlines Boeing 737-800s have ‘space bins’ that allow a standard carry on bag per passenger if all bags are stowed properly (they never are). It’s almost certainly the case that a flight attendant could have identified bags which could be turned on their side to make room for the tallit bag, or found space for it somewhere else on the aircraft. It’s rally quite small, since it’s just holding a shawl.
It seems as though there was no reason for this incident to escalate that passengers were removed from the aircraft, based on the facts in the suit. American Airlines reportedly was unwilling to comment on this pending litigation.