The battle between a commercial airline and a small New York high school is getting ugly with accusations of bad behavior flung in both directions.
Flight attendants on an AirTran flight from New York to Atlanta Monday morning booted 101 students and eight chaperones from the private Yeshiva high school of Flatbush, claiming the students were out of control.
Southwest Airlines, which owns AirTran, says the group of "non-compliant passengers" refused to stay seated, and some would not put away cell phones and other prohibited devices, even as the flight attendants, and even the captain, asked them to behave. That's when they were asked to leave the flight, Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins, said.
But officials at Yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish school, said the airline overreacted.
"It blew out of proportion," teacher Marian Wielgus, one of the chaperones aboard the flight, told CNN. "It was a mountain out of a molehill."
"They certainly didn't do what the stewardess was claiming they did," Wielgus said, adding that the flight crew was at times "nasty" and "overreacting."
She also said some students may have been asked twice to sit down or turn off their phones, but everyone did listen. Rabbi Joseph Beyda, who was also on the plane, said a flight attendant refused to identify which students were causing a problem when they asked to help.
“They just simply said ‘get off the plane,’” Beyda said.
Although the airline customer service was later helpful in getting the large group on other flights, school officials said they would be investigating the incident.
"We take this matter seriously and have started our own investigation into the incident," said Yeshiva executive Rabbi Seth Linfield, in a statement released Tuesday by the school. "Preliminarily, it does not appear that the action taken by the flight crew was justified."
At least one student in the group suspected less than appropriate motives in kicking the students off the flight.
Michael Mamiye, one of the first to be asked to leave, said he wasn't even given a chance to turn off his cell phone before being told to leave.
And another, Johnathan Zehavi, said the last thing any of the students wanted to do at 4 a.m. "was get up and make a mess."
Zehavi said he thinks the airline was trying to cover up a bad decision by exaggerating a story of an unruly and uncontrollable group.
"They treated us like we were terrorists; I've never seen anything like it. I'm not someone to make these kinds of statements," Zehavi said. "I think if it was a group of non-religious kids, the air stewardess wouldn't have dared to kick them off."