The current spate of news stories and blog entries about Haredi Musical Chairs on El Al flights is aggravating, embarrassing, infuriating, depressing and many other unhappy adjectives.
You can almost feel sorry for El Al, at least if you’re not sitting on one of their planes where a few particularly fervent haredim believe they are commanded to harass and belittle women, not let the plane take off, then block the aisles all the way to Israel. Presumably, people who embrace religious beliefs to the max, Jewish and otherwise, need to fly to many other places around the world on many airlines – say, New York to LA on Delta, Sydney to Singapore on Qantas.
But nobody else reports problems like this. Passengers on other airlines rarely risk the consequences of onboard shenanigans, at least not sober. No other carriers would risk running off customers by giving free rein to an intolerant, uninhibited minority. Nor do they need to kowtow to political pressure that keeps them from enforcing basic rules of civility, or fear repercussions if they do.
This is unlikely to change. El Al can’t even articulate a policy to prevent these incidents, much less enforce it. Its auras as the world’s most secure airline and a haimish symbol of Israel in the skies around the globe are being eclipsed by a few black hats.
Is there any way to fix this problem before the last secular passenger flees to another airline?
You bet there is. And it’s right there in the mouse you click to book your ticket.
As passengers weary of getting nickled-and-dimed and stockholders watching airline shares soar in the last couple years well know, airlines are making billions these days by tacking on extra charges as fast as they can think them up.
Want to board early? How about a sandwich with those pretzels? A couple extra inches for your cramping legs? Happen to have a suitcase? Do you like looking out the window?
You know the drill. By the time you’re finished adding in all the perks that you never dreamed weren’t basic human rights, you can double your ticket price. That’s not going away any more than haredim are going to stop flying El Al.
So add one more box to check on the computer screen: Gender-Specific Seat. Is it important to you to sit only among men (or only among women, for that matter)? Fine. Fifty bucks, please, maybe 100. If you believe, and no one doubts that you do, it’s worth every penny. El Al can use the money, or maybe even cut a few bucks from fares of less-demanding passengers.
The computer sorts it all out before the first triple-platinum frequent flyer jumps the boarding queue, everyone is happy with his or her seat, no threats, no bribes, no shanda fur die goyim.
The plane takes off on time, arrives well before the start of Shabbat or chag, and everyone – Israeli and tourist, religious and secular, Christian and Muslim – claps together. N’siyah tovah.