Airlines & Gender-Based Seat Changes: Can a Mere Request Be Discriminatory?

business_ethics_highlights_2The story below is about a court decision forbidding an airline from asking female passengers to move in order to accommodate the religious beliefs / cultural practices of other (Orthodox Jewish male) passengers.

Questions for the class:
1) If discrimination is unethical, in which cases should courts (or governments) forbid that which is unethical? Is this one of those cases?
2) Forcing a customer to move based on their sex or gender would be a fairly clear case of discrimination. Does simply asking a customer if she would mind moving also count? What if the airline simply allocated seats in such a way as to minimize instances in which men sat beside women who were not travelling with them?


LINK: Israeli airline El Al banned from asking women to switch seats (from the BBC)

Passenger Renee Rabinowitz, who is in her 80s, brought a damages case against the airline, after she was asked to move.

Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court said such requests break discrimination laws.

The airline says it never pressures passengers to swap seats.

Ms Rabinowitz, a Holocaust survivor, was flying from Newark in the US to Tel Aviv in 2015, when the air steward made the request.

She said she felt “humiliated”.

Many strictly Orthodox men avoid accidentally touching women other than their wives in order to guard against extra-marital attraction, a concept in Jewish law known as negiah….

What do you think?

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  1. S. D.

    Perhaps if common courtesy and a sense of respect had existed, the man would not have said (to the effect) “Get this woman away from me”, and would have far more appropriately asked a steward if HE could switch seats as HE was uncomfortable sitting beside a woman due to HIS specific religious dogma. But, as we see time and time again, self-absorbed egotism seems to trump common courtesy or respect these days.

  2. shannon

    If he felt that strongly, he should have purchased two seats. Putting the onus on the gentleman with the issue.

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