The current seating spat aboard El Al planes reminds me of seating elsewhere in the Jewish world. When planning a wedding, the seating chart seems to rank as important as the Chuppah. Aunt Sophie won’t sit with Uncle Benny, who would be upset if he didn’t sit next to cousin Terri, who is rooming with Sophie’s daughter. The brouhaha about certain men refusing to travel on a plane next to a female, other than his wife, seems easy enough to overcome long before there is a confrontation on the airplane. The old expression that EL AL was an acronym for “Every Leaving Always Late” seems to hold true.
This is an issue for the men in question, not the rest of the passengers. The easiest solution is for men who have this need to be required to buy the seat(s) adjacent, if other such observant men do not also book seats. Preflight booking can ask if this seating issue exists. If the yes box is checked, then a new level of scrutiny is developed. If the box is not checked, there is not consideration. The seating chart can be developed using computer algorithms. Alternatively, sections can be set aside for the observant. If seats are not available, the section can be expanded or the plane listed as sold-out for these men. Maybe business class could be reserved for all women who find they are bearing the brunt of this bad treatment! Maybe we do a first come first served approach. The balagan that is the El Al boarding process would look much the same as it does now!
There seems to be a multiplicity of solutions available long before boarding takes place. For a land touted as among the technology centers, this problem seems far from daunting. To create an argument on the plane, or make some passengers feel unwelcome, seems to be the worst possible alternative. My guess if that if the airline were held accountable, a workable solution would be quickly found. Maybe the pending lawsuit is the needed catalyst.
Update: Another Proposoal
According to The Muqata Blog there is another solution: It has been in the news that male Ultra-Orthodox Hareidi passengers do not want to sit next to women on plane flights. However, not being exposed to in-flight movies is even more important to them than avoiding “immodestly” dressed women. These Ultra-Orthodox do not own TVs and do not watch movies. On most planes, almost every seat has a good view of the inflight movie. Unlike non-Orthodox passengers who may be bored by a movie they have already seen, it is hard for these men to avert their eyes the whole time.
According to The Jerusalem Post, the Rabbinical Council for Public Transportation has approved a portable mehitza (curtain):
The new mehitzas, made of white nylon, stick onto the fabric of the airplane chair using Velcro and can be arranged to make a protective “shield.” The mehitza goes around the head and is mostly in front of the passenger’s face …
The inventor prefers not to be named and won’t release any photos. However, the Photoshop artist at The Muqata Blog has come up with an illustration of what an El Al advertising poster might look like featuring the personal mehitzah.