JetBlue bans flight attendants from wearing Palestinian flag pins after incident with Jewish passenger
A JetBlue Airbus A321 neo takes off at London’s Heathrow Airport Sept. 17, 2023.
Photo: Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The airline threatened to arrest the passenger, but later apologized

By Benyamin Cohen
May 9, 2024

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

JetBlue Airways is banning its in-flight crew members from wearing political pins after an incident involving a flight attendant sporting a Palestinian flag pin and a Jewish passenger.

“We have changed our uniform policy to make clear that on board the aircraft is not the right place for crewmembers to advocate positions on certain issues or political topics,” said JetBlue spokesperson Derek Dombrowski.

The change, implemented on May 3, came five days after Paul Faust, 54, was traveling from his home in Fort Lauderdale to Las Vegas. On board the flight, Faust saw an attendant wearing several pins — including one for Black Lives Matter and another of the Palestinian flag.

When it came time for the drink service, the attendant, according to Faust, “put on an apron and decided to move the ‘Free Palestine’ pin to the apron, and not the Black Lives Matter pin.” (Photos taken by Faust’s seatmate show the Palestinian flag, but it is unclear if it also says “Free Palestine.”)

Faust went up to the lead flight attendant and asked if she could speak to her colleague, he said: “I said, ‘I don’t want there to be an issue. Maybe speak with her after we leave the plane. Just talk about how it was maybe a little insensitive. It made me feel a little uncomfortable.’”

Rachelle Almagor, 45, and an Israeli-American who was sitting next to Faust on the flight, was also offended. “My daughter lost her best friend in Gaza,” Almagor told the Daily Mail. “He was kidnapped and murdered. So it was very uncomfortable for me to have to see that ‘Free Palestine’ pin.”

Faust thought that was the end of it, but when he exited the plane in Las Vegas, a JetBlue staffer at the gate said he needed to speak with him about a disturbance he caused on the plane. According to Faust, they threatened to call the police.

The next day, JetBlue canceled the reservation for Faust’s return flight. When he called customer service to find out more, he was told it was because he had caused a disturbance on the previous flight.

To watch Faust’s Instagram post click here.

The airline was already working on its semi-regular update to its uniform policies, which included a change in its pin policy. The policy, which had been around for years, allowed crew members to wear two pins: one from JetBlue and one of their choosing, as long as it was not offensive. The company concluded that, in the current political climate and in an election year, it needed to tighten that policy.

“In light of this incident, we urgently expedited this change,” JetBlue’s Dombrowski said. Rather than wait until all the new uniform policies were implemented this summer, JetBlue quickly reached out to the Transport Workers Union, which represents flight attendants on several airlines. In a matter of days, they were able to come up with the new policy.

Under the new guidelines, a second pin can only be worn if it’s from a state, country or territory served by JetBlue; if it’s a pin representing first responders; or a pin from the union.

“We are taking this matter very seriously,” Dombrowski said, “and conducting a full investigation into our crewmembers’ actions.”

To watch Faust’s follow up post, click here.

This is not the first time the Transport Workers Union has found itself in the middle of issues related to the Israel-Hamas war. The union said this week it is taking legal action against Columbia University on behalf of the school’s custodians, who were caught up in the melee when pro-Palestinian protesters last month took over a campus building. The union argues that the university knew the building was a target, and should have moved faster to protect staff working there.

We “want recompense for the torture that they went through for that moment in time,” said John Samuelsen, TWU’s president.

Benyamin Cohen is the News Director at the Forward. Follow him on Twitter @benyamincohen and sign up for his morning newsletter.

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