Lawsuit: Brooklyn Couple Sues American Airlines after They were Kicked Off Plane for Refusing to Put Tallis Bag on the Floor

Lawsuit: Brooklyn Couple Sues American Airlines after They were Kicked Off Plane for Refusing to Put Tallis Bag on the Floor

While heading back to Brooklyn from Miami on American Airlines in August, Elana Birman, 71, only brought her purse on board, and her husband Roberto, 76, brought only his briefcase and a tallis bag, which he stowed in the overhead bin.

When a flight attendant, however, walked down the plane’s aisle before takeout to check the overhead bins, she pulled down Mr. Birman’s tallis bag, and abruptly asked, “Whose is this?”

When Mr. Birman said that the tallis bag was his, the flight attendant allegedly threw the bag on his lap and told him that he had to put it under his seat, the couple told the New York Post.

“It’s a religious item, so it cannot go under the seat,” he told the flight attendant, who was unmoved and rudely responded by saying, “It doesn’t matter.” 

“She was screaming at me and pointing her finger,” said Mr. Birman, who along with his wife of 52 years, was then escorted off the plane.

The Birmans, who immigrated to the US in 1985 from Argentina, where they encountered frequent anti-Semitism, said they felt shocked and humiliated.

“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me in America,” said Mr. Birman. “We use these items every single day to pray.”

“Nobody said a word,” said Mrs. Birman, who pointed out that flight attendants would not ask people of other religions to put their sacred objects on the floor. “Nobody defended us. It was embarrassing.”

The pilot, however, came over to the Birman’s seats, but he did not speak to them, reported the couple, who recounted that then a ground crew member directed them to follow him off the plane.

As soon as they were ushered out, the crew member allegedly told his coworkers, “Close the gate!”

“What are we, criminals?” Mrs. Birman remembered thinking.

Mr. Birman “was devastated,” recounted Mrs. Birman, who described being stranded in Miami, without their checked baggage, which held her husband’s diabetes medications, and without kosher food or place to stay that night.

As a hurricane swept into Miami, the Birmans, took a taxi to the home of a friend.

“It was out of proportion,” Mr. Birman said. [The flight attendant] made me so nervous. I was shaking.”

The couple is suing American Airlines 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 the Birmans’ lawyer, Brad Gerstman. “The flight attendant and pilot’s conduct was as offensive as it was illogical.”

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