Israeli flag is seen on the first of Israel's El Al Airlines
FILE PHOTO: An Israeli flag is seen on the first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jets, as it lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel August 23, 2017. Reuters/Amir Cohen/File Photo

El Al Israel Airlines Ltd has announced it would remove from flight any traveller who refused to sit next to another traveller. The move was apparently in response to an incident last week in which four ultra-Orthodox men refused to take their assigned seats because they were next to women.

On Monday, El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin said that he had ordered staff to remove any traveller immediately if they refused to sit next to another traveller.

He was referring to the recent incident where four ultra-Orthodox men caused an El Al plane en route from New York to Israel to depart 75 minutes late due to their demands. Their seats were next to two women, so they refused to take their assigned seats. When female flight attendants attempted to intervene, the men did not want to even look at them as well.

Passenger Khen Rotem wrote on a Facebook post how the men stubbornly caused an entire flight to be disrupted. He said when the men boarded the plane at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York, they refused to take their seats because they were next to women. One of the men said he was “particularly devout and ascetic,” even getting on the plane with his eyes closed and keeping them shut for the duration of the flight just so he could avoid looking at any women.

“The crew tries to solve the problem. This doesn’t work. The female flight attendants clear space for the authoritative men on board… the ultra-Orthodox are not ready to speak with, or even look at the female flight attendants,” Rotem wrote on Friday (via Times of Israel). Because the male passengers stubbornly refused to talk to the female attendants, Rotem said all the men in the crew, except for the captain, were now involved, with everyone trying to appease the ultra-Orthodox men instead of serving other passengers.

“The ultra-Orthodox don’t blink. One of the crew members threatens: ‘If you don’t sit down, you can get off the plane right now,’” he added. But despite the threat, the crew did not hold their ground and instead began “the long diplomatic process of moving female passengers from their places.”

An elderly American woman and a young Israeli woman eventually agreed to move seats, allowing the flight to finally take off.

“Bottom line: At the time the El Al plane was dealing with matters of practical theology and personal belief against individual rights and civil order, 12 planes from other companies cut ahead of the [El Al] plane,” he wrote.

El Al later apologised for the inconvenienced caused to passengers, claiming any discrimination against passengers was “absolutely forbidden.”

The incident prompted a prominent Israeli tech company to threaten boycott the airline. “At NICE, we don’t do business with companies that discriminate against race, gender or religion, NICE CEO Barak Eilam wrote on LinkedIn. “NICE will not fly @EL AL Istrael Airlines until they change their practice and actions discriminating women.”

This is not the first time El Al has been called out for allegedly discriminating women by giving in to demands of religious men. Last year, Holocaust survivor Renee Rabinowitz took the airline to court when she was asked to change seats for an ultra-Orthodox man on a flight in December 2015. A Jerusalem court ruled that the airline was in the wrong for asking Rabinowitz to change seats. It gave the company six months to provide training to staff.