Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Tue October 04 2016

Are Cultural Beliefs Leading to Discrimination in the Skies?

Airlines & Airports | Patrick Clarke | October 04, 2016

Are Cultural Beliefs Leading to Discrimination in the Skies?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock 

Frequent traveler Mary Campos appears to be the latest victim of a troubling airline trend.

According to the Orange County Register, Campos was flying to Houston out of Santa Ana's John Wayne Airport last month when she was forced to change seats on her flight after two male passengers cited cultural beliefs that prevent them from touching or talking to women.

Campos, who spoke to the flight crew shortly after takeoff, told the Register that a female flight attendant also told her she wasn't allowed to interact with the two men, who were dressed in traditional Buddhist attire.

Campos said she was offered a $100 voucher at the United counter in Houston for her troubles, but later emailed the airline.

"First, I do respect the religious beliefs of all groups. But I do not believe cultural beliefs should be enforced by United to discriminate against females," wrote Campos. "We live in the United States of America where females are treated as equals, not as subordinates. As a female, mother of two daughters and a business woman, this is unacceptable."

In response to Campos' treatment, United would only say that its "goal is to provide safe and comfortable travel for all of our customers."

"United holds our employees to the highest standards of professionalism and has zero tolerance for discrimination." said United media relations spokeswoman Mary Clark via the Register.

While Campos' story is undoubtedly concerning, it isn't the first or last time a female passenger will be impacted by someone else's beliefs.

READ MORE: Are Airbnb's Discrimination Issues Fueling a Wave of Inclusive Home Sharing?

After all, retired lawyer Renee Rabinowitz sued Israel's national airline El Al earlier this year after she was asked to move seats because a man refused to sit next to her. Plenty of others have also been asked to change seats or have had men refuse to sit next to them.

In a high-profile case in December 2014, a Delta Air Lines flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed for 30 minutes when a group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refused to sit in their assigned seats because they were located between two women. The women, citing discrimination, refused to move and the situation wasn't resolved until an American passenger offered to change seats to accommodate the men, who said they aren't permitted to make contact with members of the opposite sex who aren't relatives or a spouse.

Prior to that incident, several Haredi men aboard an El Al flight in September 2014 even went so far as to offer to pay female passengers to change their seats.

However until airlines implement new policies that truly have zero tolerance for discrimination, cultural or otherwise, it seems that passengers will be best served adopting Campos' attitude. 

"You see a lot of weird stuff when you travel as much as I do," she told Register. "I'm pretty laid back about it."


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