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January 10, 2019 4:12 pm

‘You Could See the Hatred’: Eyewitness Alleges Shocking Verbal Assault on Orthodox Jewish Family by Spirit Airlines Flight Attendant

avatar by Ben Cohen

The tail of a plane from the fleet of low-cost US carrier Spirit Airlines. Photo: Reuters / Regis Duvignau.

An Orthodox Jew who traveled with his wife and small children on Tuesday on board a Spirit Airlines flight from Newark to Fort Lauderdale was allegedly described as “that retarded Jew” by a member of the cabin crew, following an argument over whether a seat for his one-month-old baby was permitted on board the aircraft.

A fellow passenger on the early-morning flight told The Algemeiner on Thursday that he had overheard the flight attendant complaining about the family to a colleague, angrily referring to the father as “that retarded Jew” during the course of his rant.

The alleged antisemitic barb came at the height of a nightmare journey for the family that culminated in them being forcibly escorted off the plane by two armed police officers and two Spirit Airlines representatives upon landing in Florida.

Their experience was made public on Thursday morning by former New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represented the Brooklyn district where the family lives for 35 years before retiring last month.

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In an account of their journey provided to Hikind, the couple — who were traveling with their three-year-old and two-year-old daughters, in addition to the baby — said that they had been given permission by a gate agent at Newark Airport to take the baby seat on board after demonstrating that it also functioned as a car seat.

But after buckling the baby into her car seat and taking their own seats on the plane, a female flight attendant informed the couple that the seat was not permitted on board after all. During the argument that followed, a male flight attendant, described by the eyewitness to the incident as white and in his late 20s, reportedly ordered the father to “shut up,” while insisting that the baby had to be unbuckled from her seat — an instruction with which the family complied.

“It was painful to see,” the eyewitness said in a telephone interview. “It was a young couple with three little kids. They were just out to get them. It was disgusting.”

The eyewitness said the male flight attendant had become particularly enraged, encouraging the other cabin staff to round on the family. “I saw how it became personal, how the steward was trying to make a whole fight out of it,” the eyewitness said. “He was trying to get the other staff on his side to say, ‘No, we’re not gonna give in,’ even though they’d been told the baby seat was allowed on the plane.”

During the flight, it was the same male attendant who referred to the father as “that retarded Jew” while speaking about the family with a colleague, said the eyewitness, who had been sitting at the back of the plane near the cabin galley.

“It was like they were out to get them. It was antisemitism,” the eyewitness added. “The guy was full of hatred. You could see it.”

Unfortunately for the family, that was not the last altercation of the flight. When the father attempted to take the two-year-old on his lap alongside the children’s mother, he was ordered back to his seat by the same male steward, who cited airline safety regulations that forbid five people from sitting in a three-seat row. According to the account provided to Hikind, the father “readily complied and returned to his seat.”

But when the plane landed, the other passengers were prevented from disembarking for half an hour so that the family could be forcibly escorted off the plane by the police officers and ground staff. When the couple asked what crime they had committed and whether they were under arrest, they were told that they “had not been wearing seat belts.” The staff then informed the couple that they were henceforth banned from flying on Spirit Airlines, telling the stunned pair, in a parting shot, to “find another flight home.” That same evening, the couple got in touch with Hikind and relayed what had occurred.

“What happened with this family was outrageous,” Hikind told The Algemeiner on Thursday. “When they were taken off the plane, a husband and wife and their three little kids all crying, they were not told what they did wrong. They were not arrested. And then, when they were told, it’s because of the seat belts. It’s ridiculous.”

Asked Hikind: “Was this something that warranted two police officers and two agents of the airline and keeping the other passengers back for a half-hour? It was traumatic for this family. What happened here was unconscionable.”

Hikind said the flight attendant’s bigoted comment about “that retarded Jew” was “what crossed the line for me, and that’s why we went public with the whole picture.”

In a prepared statement that was emailed to The Algemeiner on Thursday afternoon, Spirit Airlines said it would investigate the matter, while strongly defending the conduct of its staff.

“The safety of our Guests and crew is our top priority,” the statement said. “Our records indicate that this Guest ignored flight and ground crew instructions multiple times, beginning with the boarding process and continuing through landing.”

The statement continued: “While the Guests have not contacted us with any allegations of discrimination, we will now launch an investigation and take these matters very seriously. Spirit Airlines does not tolerate any form of discrimination. We are extremely proud of the diversity of our team and strive to provide exceptional service to all of our Guests.”

The eighth-largest carrier in the US, Spirit Airlines provides ultra low-cost flights in and between North America, the Caribbean and Latin America. Famed on the internet for poor reviews in which passengers frequently vow to never fly with the airline again, Spirit was America’s lowest-ranked airline in a 2018 survey of more than 50,000 economy-class passengers by Consumer Reports.

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