A Jewish couple who were kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to store their sacred prayer shawl on the floor have filed a lawsuit against the airline.
Roberto and Elana Birman, a couple in their 70s, were flying from Miami to New York on flight 322 in August when they claim the incident occurred.
A flight attendant allegedly pulled Roberto’s Tallit bag, a 8.5 inch-by-8.5-inch clear plastic bag holding his prayer book and shawl, out from the overhead bin and asked who it belonged to.
When the pair indicated it was theirs, the crew member allegedly threw the bag on his lap and said it had to go under his seat.
Roberto claims he told the member of staff that, as an Orthodox Jew, he could not put the shawl on the floor, explaining, “It’s a religious item, it cannot go under the seat,” and removing his baseball cap to show his kippah.
But the flight attendant said it didn’t matter, the couple claim.
“She was screaming at me and pointing her finger,” Roberto told the New York Post.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me in America.
“We use these items every single day to pray.”
When they refused, they were eventually ushered off the plane.
Elana called the incident “embarrassing”, adding that her husband “was devastated” by what happened.
“Nobody said a word. Nobody defended us,” she said. “What are we, criminals?”
The couple, who have been married for 52 years and have five children, say they were left without Roberto’s diabetes medications, which were stowed in their checked luggage, and were offered no help with finding accommodation for the night by AA.
They are now suing the carrier for unspecified damages.
“My clients were ejected from the flight based on the prejudices and complete lack of sensitivity of American Airlines employees for reasons wholly unrelated to security,” said their lawyer, Brad Gerstman.
“The flight attendant and pilot’s conduct was as offensive as it was illogical.”
American Airlines is reviewing the lawsuit, according to a spokesperson.