A fun trip to Atlanta for amusement park rides and rafting was delayed for 101 students of a Brooklyn-based Orthodox Jewish school Monday when the students and their chaperones were booted off an AirTran flight for "noncompliance."
Southwest, which owns AirTran, claimed some students refused to stay seated and ignored repeated requests to stop using mobile devices before the flight left the gate. The flight's captain tried to intervene at the flight crew's request. When that didn't work the group was asked to leave, delaying the AirTran flight for 45 minutes, Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins told CNN.
Students and chaperones from Yeshiva of Flatbush Joel Braveman High School said the flight crew overreacted to the teenagers.
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"They treated us like we were terrorists," student Jonathan Zehavi told CNN, who said he felt they were targeted because they were identifiably Jewish. "I've never seen anything like it. I'm not someone to make these kinds of statements. I think if it was a group of non-religious kids, the air stewardess wouldn't have dared to kick them off."
Southwest spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger told the New York Daily News that the students' behavior drove the crew to act.
"The sole reason these customers were removed from the aircraft was due to their behavior
," she said. "Anything otherwise is unfounded and offensive.”
Rabbi Seth Linfield, executive director of the school, said the school will conduct its own investigation.
"We take this matter seriously," Linfield said in a statement released Tuesday. "Preliminarily, it does not appear that the action taken by the flight crew was justified."
Yeshiva teacher Marian Wielgus, one of the chaperones, said some students may have been told twice to sit down and turn off a phone, but everyone complied. Weilgus called the flight attendants "nasty" and said they actually creating the incident with their attitudes.
"It blew out of proportion," Wielgus said. "It was a mountain out of a molehill. They certainly did not do what the stewardess was claiming they did. That's what was so bizarre."
The group was placed on following flights to Atlanta. Rabbi Joseph Beyda told CNN the airline's customer service did its best to accommodate them; the group had to be split up and they were in transit for a total of 12 hours.
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