The high school seniors, all from the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, ignored multiple requests from flight attendents and, eventually, the captain to take their seats and power down their electronics. After the captain's request went unheeded, the students, and their adult chaperones, were ordered to leave the plane for safety reasons, delaying the flight for over 45 minutes, according to Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, AirTran's parent company.
“I have no indication that the flight attendants overreacted,” Hawkins told the Associated Press. “The point at which the captain comes on the PA system and says, 'You all need to sit down' is unusual.”
One witness told CNN that there were roughly 10 students in the back of the plane who repeatedly disobeyed the crew. “They were laughing at them and ignoring them," passenger Brad Rinschler said. “The pilot warned them. They did not comply. They thought it was a joke.”
“I've never seen this,” Rinschler added, noting that he takes the flight three times a month. “If they were adults, they wouldn't have even had that many chances.”
Officials at Yeshiva of Flatbush diagree with Rinscher and AirTran's account of the incident.
"We take this matter seriously and have started our own investigation," said a statement released Tuesday by Rabbi Seth Linfield, executive director of the Yeshiva of Flatbush school. "Preliminarily, it does not appear that the action taken by the flight crew was justified."
Some of the students claimed they were unfairly targeted because they are Orthodox Jews.
"They treated us like we were terrorists; I've never seen anything like it. I'm not someone to make these kinds of statements," student Jonathan Zehavi told CNN. "I think if it was a group of non-religious kids, the air stewardess wouldn't have dared to kick them off."
Several connecting flights and 12 hours later, the students made it to Atlanta, where they had plans to go white water rafting and to visit Six Flags as part of a three-day trip. Linfield, the executive director at Yeshiva of Flatbush, told CNN the students and chaperones were offered vouchers for travel on future Southwest flights.