Investigate Frontier Airlines for anti-Semitism

Frontier Airlines Flight 2878 never left Miami for New York. Americans deserve to know why (cnbc.com).

Sometimes people tell such different versions of a story, you marvel that they’re even talking about the same thing. Such is the case with Frontier Airlines Flight 2878, which was supposed to leave Miami for New York’s La Guardia Airport on the evening of Feb. 28 but never did.

The “why” varies depending on who’s speaking. Passengers from that flight tell one version of events, while the airline’s is vastly different. According to passengers, members of the airline staff seemed to take issue with a Hasidic family sitting at the back of the plane. 

A flight attendant asked the parents to put a mask on their 15-month-old child; the mother replied it was unnecessary because of the child’s age. The staff eventually told 12 Hasidic Jews sitting at the back of the plane, not all of whom were traveling together or related, to disembark.

At issue was the matter of masking, but passenger Temima Stark told the New York Times that she observed all those kicked off the plane in masks, other than the baby. Stark also noted that as the passengers were leaving the plane, she saw airline employees high-fiving each other. In a video the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council posted on Twitter, two unidentified male passengers reported seeing employees high-five; one also heard them say “a job well done to those Jews.” In the same video, an unidentified female passenger reports having heard the staff say, “We did it!”

The airline, by contrast, has a different take. A Frontier Airlines spokeswoman said in an email: “Multiple people, including several adults, were asked repeatedly to wear their masks and refused to do so. Based on the continued refusal to comply with the federal mask mandate, refusal to disembark the aircraft and aggression towards the flight crew, local law enforcement was engaged.” That the airline contacted law enforcement when nonviolent parents and children were clearly exiting the flight illustrates overkill.

New York state Sen. Simcha Felder, who represents Brooklyn’s Borough Park and Flatbush, subsequently sent a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer demanding “an immediate federal investigation” of this incident. Schumer’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Ziporah Reich, director of litigation at The Lawfare Project, said in an email, “If these disturbing allegations are true, Frontier Airlines is in gross violation of federal anti-discrimination laws and guilty of … disparate treatment of Jews. …. The airline would also be in violation of a host of consumer protection laws it is required to abide by.”

A Department of Transportation spokesperson confirmed that people’s civil rights are safeguarded while flying, saying in an email, “The Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection investigates all discrimination-related complaints that it receives against airlines and will investigate this incident if a complaint is received.”

An investigation of Frontier’s Flight 2878 is clearly in order. The affected customers, along with the public, have a right to know what happened that Sunday. If the passengers’ story is true, were the staff working that flight a handful of unprofessional outliers, or is there a deeper problem with Frontier’s corporate culture?

As Felder wrote to Schumer, “This incident is extremely upsetting and its proximity to recent similar incidents signals an alarming and disturbing trend.” That is, this is not the only example of Orthodox Jews allegedly facing mistreatment while flying, some of it from fellow passengers

The only way to reverse this trend, along with rising anti-Semitism more generally, is for more people to speak out when they see Jews being harassed. That can be done in various ways, including Julian Edelman-style invitations for one-on-one conversations or legal channels when necessary.

The other crucial lesson this episode teaches is that people can’t outsource taking action to elected officials in Washington. If we want to reduce anti-Semitism, it’s up to the rest of us to lead the way.

This article appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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