Delta and KLM sued for alleged antisemitic discrimination by group of Jewish girls who were barred from boarding flights last summer

Delta and KLM sued for alleged antisemitic discrimination by group of Jewish girls who were barred from boarding flights last summer
An aircraft operated by Delta Airlines moves past airlines operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images
  • A group of Orthodox Jewish girls was barred from boarding flights operated by Delta and KLM last summer.
  • The group was trying to travel home to New York after visiting Holocaust sites in Europe.

A group of Orthodox Jewish girls who were barred from two flights last summer is suing Delta Air Lines and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for discrimination, according to a lawsuit.

The 19 plaintiffs from New York were part of a 54-person tour group of Jewish teenagers and their chaperones visiting religious sites in Europe, including Holocaust memorials in Ukraine and the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, from late July until early August last year.

In a complaint filed on Tuesday, the plaintiffs allege that treatment on their return journey was "a devastating reminder at the hands of Delta Air Lines and KLM Airlines that antisemitism and discrimination against the Jewish race continue in 2021."

During the first leg of the group's journey home — a KLM-operated flight from Kyiv to Amsterdam on August 6, 2021 — flight attendants disciplined the girls for failing to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols, Insider previously reported.

Some tour group members took off their masks to eat homemade kosher food. According to the complaint, a flight attendant disciplined them for removing their face coverings to eat outside of the plane's designated mealtimes.


Other passengers who snacked outside of the allotted time for eating were not disciplined, the complaint said.

The Orthodox Jewish girls were given a "final warning" notice for unacceptable behavior and non-compliance with COVID-19 protocols, which threatened them with arrest if they failed to comply, the complaint said.

The KLM staff targeted them with warnings "solely for the purpose of unlawfully harassing plaintiffs because of their Jewish race, ethnicity, and/or religion," the complaint alleges.

During a layover in Amsterdam, a KLM security official told the group they would not all be able to board their flight home. A document barring 19 passengers from boarding the Amsterdam to New York flight was presented to the group, according to the complaint.

The list of barred passengers from the group of 54 included two tour group members who, the complaint said, had not traveled on the first leg of the trip from Kyiv to Amsterdam with the girls accused of breaking COVID-19 protocols.


"By barring Plaintiffs from traveling without any regard to their individual conduct, Defendants sought to target and penalize the group of Jewish passengers as a whole by barring 19 of its members from traveling," the complaint said.

Delta and KLM sued for alleged antisemitic discrimination by group of Jewish girls who were barred from boarding flights last summer
The Orthodox Jewish teens slept at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport while their rabbi tried to arrange another flight.Yisroel Kahan

The group of Jewish teenagers spent the night sleeping on benches at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, Insider previously reported.

Last August, the group's rabbi Yisroel Kahan told Insider that he spent the night calling New York lawmakers, including Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, to reach out to Delta Air Lines to remedy the situation.

The following morning on August 7, 2021, the plaintiffs were booked onto a Delta flight to New York. Once on the plane, one of the girls swapped seats with an unaffiliated passenger.

A video reviewed by Insider appeared to show a woman confirming that she asked the teenager to switch seats with her.


According to the complaint, the plaintiffs were ordered off the plane for "misbehaving."

The complaint said that the plaintiffs accused Delta of discrimination and treated the group "differently and worse than non-Jewish passengers" who had tried to move seats without being disciplined.

It is also alleged that a KLM security official repeatedly taunted the tour group while they waited in the airport after being deplaned.

The group was offered a flight reservation for later that day, but it would have involved traveling after the start of Shabbat — the Jewish day of rest when observant Jews are not allowed to travel by car or plane. They spent the night in Antwerp, Belgium, and traveled home to New York with United Airlines on August 8, 2021.

They are now asking for compensatory and punitive damage and, per the complaint, for Delta and KLM to comply with US federal and state anti-discrimination law and to be prohibited from "discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity and religion, and in particular, discriminating against Jewish persons."


Insider reached out to Herrick Feinstein LLP, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, but it could not comment.

"While Delta has no specific comment on this pending litigation, compliance with flight crew member instructions for the safety and well-being of everyone is paramount," a Delta Air Lines spokesperson told Insider by email. "Delta also has zero-tolerance for discrimination in any form in all aspects of our business."

A KLM Royal Dutch Airlines spokesperson told Insider that the company does not comment on pending litigation.