Pressure to get a chronically late flight into the air contributed to a June 3 incident in which more than 100 yeshiva kids were asked to leave an Atlanta-bound flight. But anti-Semitism did not.
Those are among the findings of an internal investigation by the Yeshivah of Flatbush into the incident, which garnered national news coverage when one of the students suggested bias against Jews by the flight crew. The yeshiva report was based on extensive interviews with the students, other passengers and AirTran, a subsidiary of Southwest Air.
In his report to the yeshiva's president and head of school, which was obtained by The Jewish Week, executive director Rabbi Seth Linfield said "at no time did the students disrespect the flight crew in words or tone -- beyond not complying with the first and/or second directives to turn off all electronic devices." Rabbi Linfield said the students were not speaking on their phones but listening to music in airplane mode, believing this was permissable.
He said that some of the seven chaperones on the flight tried to intervene in an exchange between the flight crew and students but were rebuffed. Shortly thereafter the crew began asking students to deplane. The students were given vouchers for other flights and took an additional three days to get to Atlanta.
Southwest Airlines, which manages the subsidiary AirTrans, said the students had been unruly and disobeyed orders, and that passengers said the students frequently changed seats as the plane awaited departure.
Rabbi Linfield noted his finding that Flight 345, a commuter flight from New York to Atlanta, has an on-time performance rate of 50 percent, and suggested, "It is not unreasonable to presume that Southwest has placed signifcant pressure on the flight crew to decrease the delays on the flight." He also said the flight was overbooked and the boarding "chaotic," contributing to the stress of the crew.
But he rejected the suggestion of the student that the group was targeted because they are Jewish. "We categorically affirm that anti-Semitism did not play any role in Southwest's decision, however misguided it may have been."
The rabbi noted that each student had completed 160 hours of community service as a graduation requirement, including Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, and that there had been no incident of questionable behavior on their previous class trips.
The report included an apology to AirTran, “to the extent that any of our students behaved in a way that was perceived by the flight crew to be disrespectful or disobedient.”
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