A group of 101 high school seniors and their eight chaperones were booted from an AirTran flight headed from New York City to Atlanta on Monday after staff deemed the students too rowdy. But some say the teens from Brooklyn’s Yeshivah of Flatbush were treated unfairly and may have been targeted for being Jewish.
Southwest Airlines, which owns AirTran, said the “noncompliant” passengers on the flight from LaGuardia Airport refused to remain seated and stop using their cell phones when asked, CNN reports. Soon, the crew simply asked the entire group to leave the plane, which delayed the flight for 45 minutes, Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins told CNN. The airline maintains that the group violated safety regulations, but the Brooklyn-based Orthodox Jewish school disagrees. Executive director Rabbi Seth Linfield released an official statement Tuesday, but didn’t respond to TIME’s requests for additional comment. According to the statement:
We take this matter seriously and have already opened our own investigation. We will continue to speak with the chaperones and students and reach out to Southwest Airlines to determine the facts. Preliminarily, it does not appear that the action taken by the flight crew was justified. We acknowledge that Southwest Airlines has offered vouchers for future air travel to faculty and students.
One student speculated that perhaps they were targeted since they were part of a visibly Jewish group. “They treated us like we were terrorists; I’ve never seen anything like it,” the student, Jonathan Zehavi, told CNN. He insists that, contrary to Southwest’s claims, he and his fellow classmates were not being noncompliant. “It was 4 o’clock in the morning. The last thing any of us wanted to do was get up and make a mess.”
This isn’t the only controversy of its kind that Southwest has sparked recently. In April, the airline caught some major flak after a passenger claimed he’d been thrown off a flight because of his weight. But that was just one man; this time around, there are 109 customers to reckon with.