Dear Ted Christie (CEO of Spirit Airlines),
It’s time you invest in diversity training.
This is my story. We are Orthodox Jews. We were discriminated against by Spirit Airlines on Flight 604 FLL-LGA on 4/6/21.
I am a CPA. My wife is a special education teacher. We have five children under the age of eight. She is an American citizen and with Hungarian and Czechoslovakian heritage. I am American and Australian, but I am also by ancestry, Burmese, Iraqi, Polish and Russian. I am light-skinned; my Burmese-Iraqi great grandparents were dark-skinned. My wife’s great grandparents were killed by the Nazis for being Jewish. My great grandfathers were killed by the Soviets for running schools that taught about Judaism.
We do not believe in conspiracy theories. We stayed home for many months at the start of Covid-19. Wore masks out of the home. We have not been on vacation in over a year due to quarantining. We only caught Covid around January because of my wife’s job as a teacher, which was not essential enough to receive the vaccine earlier. We did not play games. We did not wait. We tested instantly and then and quarantined immediately to avoid spreading the disease.
Our vigilance did not save us from discrimination by Spirit.
Two hours into the flight, a male white flight attendant (and I believe there was only one FA to fit that description) came over to us and started hollering at us, “I’ve been watching you. You are playing games. You are passing around a bag of chips to trick us. I will report you and you will never be allowed to fly again.”
These were lies and vicious threats. Were we the only people eating? No. We were, however, the largest Orthodox family on the plane. Are we expected to starve a 5-year-old? What about a 3-year-old? What about a 1-year-old? Was this payback by the flight attendant for the embarrassment incurred by Spirit only the day before?
How did the flight attendant watch us for two hours if we were one of the last rows in the back and he spent most of the flight in front? He obviously couldn’t have seen my wife and I eat the chips because we are eating healthy and didn’t eat a single chip. Was it the cute five-year-old boy with a Yarmulkah passing a large bag of chips to his little three-year-old sister?
I had my mask on most of the flight. The flight attendant came over while I had my spirited one-year-old daughter on my lap and trying to get a cracker into my mouth. If you have young children, you would know it’s quite a difficult task to do on a plane even without putting on a mask between bites (not required by the FAA).
My wife had her mask on the entire time until a moment before the flight attendant came over and had barely gotten a crumb in her mouth before the public shaming. It was as if he was waiting for that exact moment.
According to the FAA, you are allowed to take off a mask to eat on a plane. There is also no maximum number of bites allowed during a flight. There is no “Jew family exception” to that rule unless you are flying Spirit.
In case your PR department asks, yes, we did buy a seat for the baby, and no, the baby did not want to sit in her seat so I could eat faster. Why? I don’t know. She can’t talk yet.
We Jews have been brought up to fear. My earliest memories include going to synagogue every morning at the age of six. After prayers, I would hear Mr. Gus Freiberg, an elderly congregant, speak about his suffering in the Nazi concentration camps. Such anguish. He would relive it every single morning, and I with him. Tears would run down his cheeks. Those loud and piercing cries were so terrifying and frightful that I could feel them shattering the heavens.
At this tender age of six, I was transported over forty years into the past and into the camps with him. I could feel myself watching loved ones stumbling slowly into the gas chambers, hot with fever from Typhus, hiding a tiny scrap of black bread, and standing amongst rows of my people to watch my fellow Jews being hung from the gallows.
It is this fear we feel again when we walk the streets of the USA. It is this fear that we teach our children. It’s the lack of tolerance by our politicians and leaders. It is a lack of understanding by a media who dismiss millennia of suffering by our people. It is this fear we feel when we walk onto Spirit Airlines.
As Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked, we must say, “never again!”
I will leave you off with a story.
The American author and social critic Harvey Swados met with the Grand Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson on a late Brooklyn night around 1962. During that meeting, he asked the Rebbe if it was his opinion “that the holocaust could possibly happen again”. The Grand Rebbe immediately replied in Yiddish, “Morgen in der frih (Tomorrow morning).”
Will you help us stop it?
Spirit sent the following reply:
My name is XXXX, and I am a Supervisor in the Guest Relations Department here at Spirit Airlines’ headquarters. Your concern was escalated to me, and I wanted to reach out as soon as possible.
Please note that I have reviewed your concerns, and we are looking into this now which may take some time. Each of our team members and contractors are expected to reflect our culture of treating all people with dignity and respect. Thank you in advance for bearing with me as we investigate the concerns you raised.
Guest Relations Supervisor – XXXX
Shmueli Milecki wrote back the following:
I appreciate you getting back to me and taking this seriously.
I believe the larger systemic issue is that many Jewish Orthodox passengers feel that there is an undercurrent of antisemitism within Spirit Airlines. While this cannot necessarily be proven in a court of law, it does exist, through implication and through association with what people might perceive Orthodox Jewish passengers to do. It may not be legal to use a discriminatory term, but it is somewhat legal to discriminate via implication or association. Although it might be specific team members, and I am sure it does not come from the top, it still needs to be dealt with.
As the incident occurred, I had to make the difficult decision. To continue arguing with the flight attendant and assert my rights; or be quiet, stop eating the crackers I had next to me, and put on my mask. Considering I did not wish to become the next internet viral video, I decided to be quiet. It is unfortunate that it was the passenger who had the common sense, and not the flight attendant who should have taken into consideration how a viral video would affect Spirit Airlines.
Although my previous letter discussed a specific incident, I would like to tell you that on the same flight you also had some great and professional flight attendants as well. My issue is not a flight attendant mistakenly telling me to pull up my mask while eating. I’m not perfect either. It’s the extremely disrespectful way it happened, as well as the accusatory tone that we were accused of trying to ‘trick’ the airline by passing around and eating from a large bag of chips (which both my wife and I did not even eat).
I believe the best way for Spirit to combat this would be through diversity training that includes learning about the Jewish population, culture and history.
I am happy to speak if you wish.