September 6, 2006
Some fellow passengers are questioning why an Orthodox Jewish man was removed from an Air Canada Jazz flight in Montreal last week for praying.
The man was a passenger on a Sept. 1 flight from Montreal to New York City when the incident happened.
The airplane was heading toward the runway at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport when eyewitnesses said the Orthodox man began to pray.
“He was clearly a Hasidic Jew,” said Yves Faguy, a passenger seated nearby. “He had some sort of cover over his head. He was reading from a book.
“He wasn’t exactly praying out loud but he was lurching back and forth,” Faguy added.
The action didn’t seem to bother anyone, Faguy said, but a flight attendant approached the man and told him his praying was making other passengers nervous.
“The attendant actually recognized out loud that he wasn’t a Muslim and that she was sorry for the situation but they had to ask him to leave,” Faguy said.
The man, who spoke neither English nor French, was escorted off the airplane.
Air Canada Jazz termed the situation “delicate,” but says it received more than one complaint about the man’s behaviour.
The crew had to act in the interest of the majority of passengers, said Jazz spokeswoman Manon Stewart.
“The passenger did not speak English or French, so we really had no choice but to return to the gate to secure a translator,” she said.
The airline is not saying if the man was told he was not allowed to pray, but a spokesperson said the man was back on board the next flight to New York.
Jewish leaders in Montreal criticized the move as insensitive, saying the flight attendants should have explained to the other passengers that the man was simply praying and doing no harm.
Hasidic Rabbi Ronny Fine said he often prays on airplanes, but typically only gets curious stares.
“If it’s something that you’re praying in your own seat and not taking over the whole plane, I don’t think it should be a problem,” said Fine.
The Jewish group B’nai Brith Canada has offered to help give Air Canada crews sensitivity training.