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May 2, 2008, 1:29 pm
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Praying Passenger Ejected From Jet for Failing to Return to His Seat

By KEN BELSON

Published: April 18, 2008

A passenger praying in the back of a plane shortly before it took off from Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday evening was ejected from the flight for failing to follow the flight attendants’ orders to return to his seat.

The passenger, a bearded Orthodox Jewish man wearing a black hat and a long black coat, went to the back of a United Airlines jet with a small prayer book and started praying, according to a witness who was aboard. Two flight attendants tried to get his attention, but he ignored them, according to the witness, Ori Brafman, who was sitting a few rows away.

The flight attendants returned with a third attendant, who also failed to get the passenger to return to his seat on Flight 9, which was scheduled to leave for San Francisco at 9:15 p.m.

Two friends traveling with the man explained to the attendants that once the prayer is started, it must be finished without interruption, Mr. Brafman said. The man returned to his seat after he finished the prayer, which lasted about two and a half minutes, Mr. Brafman said, but the attendants had called a customer service agent.

“He was sitting in his seat, and said, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ to his friends,” Mr. Brafman said. “He had an oy vey moment.”

The agent ejected the man from the plane. There were no raised voices during the incident, and no other passengers complained, Mr. Brafman added.

Robin Urbanski, a spokeswoman for United Airlines, said that the man was put on another flight Thursday morning. She said that flights cannot depart until all passengers are in their seats, and that passengers must follow the flight crew’s instructions.

“Even when the doors of the plane are not closed, if the crew says you should take your seat, you have to, so they can proceed with preparing the flight for takeoff,” said Ms. Urbanski, who added that the flight was a few minutes late in leaving. “It’s important that the customers listen to the flight crew’s instructions, especially safety instructions.”

Ms. Urbanski said that the airline had tried to contact the passenger, but did not receive a reply. The airline said the passenger had a Colorado address.

Ephraim Sherman, a Torah student at the Chabad at New York University, a Hasidic group, said the man was probably saying the Amidah, an all-encompassing prayer that religious Jews say three times a day, while standing, rocking back and forth, while facing toward Jerusalem. The prayer is supposed to be said uninterrupted and typically lasts three to four minutes.

“It says in the Talmud that even if a snake curls around your ankle, you shouldn’t give up,” Mr. Sherman said. “Barring a humongous catastrophe, like if someone has a gun to your head, you don’t stop.”

But he added, “If I didn’t know what it was, I would be scared.”

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