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The etiquette of inflight prayer

[ by Charles Cameron ]

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The other day, three Orthodox Jews prayed aloud with “something that appeared to the flight attendants to be strapped under their clothing” on Alaska Airlines Flight 241 from Mexico to Los Angeles, and were greeted by the FBI on landing…

Just for the record, this is not the first time that a Jew wearing tefillin and praying in Hebrew on an airliner has been suspected of being a terrorist – just the most recent. AS CBS News reported on January 21st of last year:

A religious Jew wearing a series of black boxes and leather straps called tefillin or phylacteries inadvertently set off a bomb scare on a US Airways flight to Kentucky.

And apparently it doesn’t matter too much what language you pray in, or which of the Abrahamic faiths you belong to…

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Islam, Judaism, Hebrew, Arabic… even the Christian Lord’s Prayer in English can do the trick if you shout it loud enough:

Maria Busuttil, 60, said a burly Caribbean man in his early 30s put all the passengers on edge on Tuesday when just before take-off from London Heathrow he left his seat, knelt down in the aisle and started bellowing the Our Father in English. [ … ] The man, who had dark skin and dreadlocks, was holding an orange Sainsbury’s plastic bag, which some passengers feared could have contained some sort of explosive. “He didn’t want to take his seat. He was on his knees, shouting ‘Our Father who art in heaven’, as if he were a preacher… It was like he was saying his last prayer before he dies… it was very scary.”

Jesus recommends praying in private rather than standing up and doing it publicly in synagogues – “pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” – or, by implication, surely, jetliners… And any agnostic passengers can breathe a sigh of relief…

3 Responses to “The etiquette of inflight prayer”

  1. John M. Says:

    Prayers wouldn’t even get a second notice on El Al. (as long as they’re of the proper variety, I suppose) I had the pleasure on a flight from London to New York. Young and clueless, I didn’t realize why my ticket was so inexpensive until I got on the plane. The tension was palpable.

    The pre-flight, post-take-off, mid-flight, pre-landing and post-landing prayers seemed far less remarkable than my bleach-blond hair and jungle boots. I had to have been the only Gentile on board. The flight attendants had saber scars and sidearms. I could have sworn I saw one with an Uzi under his jacket. I think the one that took special care with me during the flight was Mossad. He was a tough looking individual, but to his credit, he was most courteous.

  2. William F. Owen Says:

    John M. What EL AL flight this and when? A C-130 coming out of the Ethiopia? Fly EL AL about 5 times a year. First flew with them in 1983. For me it’s remarkable in how un-remarkable it is. – and I’m a Gentile.

  3. John M. Says:

    It was 1985 out of Heathrow and it happened exactly as I stated. There was apparently some sort bomb threat at the airport, so things were more tense than usual. There were a number of folks wandering around with automatic weapons, way more than I had ever seen before. That might have had something to do with the perceived tensions.

    They were taking people out of the line at the El Al desk right left and center, the lady in front of me was weeping, they were leaning on her pretty hard. I had a freaking bleach blond mohawk, I was drawing attention. They pressed me pretty hard at the desk, as well, for a good twenty minutes. During the flight, the same scarred up gun toting badass stuck very close to me the entire flight. Does that satisfy you? If you’d like, I’ll look up the flight number and try to track down the people on the plane to verify.


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