Why it would be wise to stick with El-Al…

I admit, it was a ‘memorable flight’…

Other than myself, a grumpy Russian civil engineer sitting behind me, a rabbi with a knitted kipa and American accent several rows ahead of us, and a small group of Israeli scouts returning from a Jewish summer camp in the States – I don’t think there were many other non-haredi passengers on my last flight back home to Israel from a visit to the States. This particular jumbo jet was filled to the gills with followers of a certain Hassidic dynasty on their way to the wedding of their revered rebbe‘s last single daughter (so I was told).

The plane remained lit up like a Christmas tree, even at 4 AM when the main cabin lights were dimmed and the window shades pulled down.  Like the seatbelt sign, most seat lights remained on for the duration.  Male passengers jumped up without warning to open or close the overhead bins to repeatedly stash or retrieve their broad-brimmed hats, women passengers did the same to retrieve awesome quantities of super glatt kosher food they had brought from home. Thus, this 9.5 hour non-stop nash was marked by the sharp CLICK of spring-loaded lockers dropping open or being slammed shut at regular intervals, like some oversized metronome. Such erratic behavior might have been annoying, but it certainly didn’t set off any alarm bells among flight attendants. This being an El-Al flight, in terms of ambiance, perpetual movement and people popping in and out of their seats are fairly typical of all El-Al flights – just amped up a bit in this case.

I’ve pondered why we Jews remain in constant motion on every El-Al flight.  Would we travelers plunge to our deaths should we all slump in our seats and fall fast asleep like ‘normal’ passengers on an international flight? It’s as if the kinetic energy collectively generated by Yidden constantly milling around in economy class is the only thing keeping us airborne. Yet, this doesn’t occur on other airliners flying to Israel. Only on El-Al! Then again – no other commercial airline distributes a Traveler’s Prayer requesting Divine Providence to ensure we arrive at our destination all in one piece, perhaps explaining why returning to terra firma with El-Al is celebrated by a thankful round of applause.

As luck would have it, on this particular flight, I found myself seated next to two teenagers on their way to visit their grandmother in Jerusalem. The pair spent the entire journey from Newark to Tel-Aviv drinking and peeing. I lost count after about the 17th time they apologetically woke me from my travel-weary stupor, either to visit the galley to fill up on more cans of soda or visit the restroom to empty their bladders. Somewhere betweenGrenoble andGreece these two quenchless gullets took to agilely balancing on one foot on the middle seat armrest and leaping over my jet-lagged hulk into the aisle like mountain goats – no mean feat in skirts down to their ankles.

The girls are not an anomaly. The fact is, it’s a safe bet that El-Al has never had a Jewish passenger stricken by a Traveller’s Thrombosis (“economy class syndrome”) brought on by a combination of prolonged immobility in a semi-fetal position and insufficient hydration on a long flight. What’s for sure, my seatmates’ frequent trips to the bathroom were nothing to get alarmed about…

Not so for passengers on American Airlines Flight 34 from LA to JFKon the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Three Israeli nationals who went to the bathroom one time too many on the five hour 45 minute flight led to F-16 fighter jets scrambling to intercept and shadow the passenger plane on the last leg of the journey.  The Israeli tourists were then personally escorted off the plane by air marshals and investigated for suspicious behavior on two counts: 1. making frequent trips to the bathroom.  2. gesturing as they talked (view this video clip on mute for the full effect).

That was seven months ago.  A one-time occurrence?

Nope. The perils of international travel for Israelis don’t end here. What brought to mind that memorable trip back from the States was another incident involving Israelis just a few weeks ago – in which two more Israeli nationals were hauled off an airliner due to suspicious in-flight behavior – but this time the culprit was extended chatter, not a full bladder.

The two passengers were collared and escorted off a British Airlines plane by armed London air marshals for being too loquacious! The pair had engaged in a non-stop political discussion throughout a long non-stop flight from Las Vegas to London – avid conversation that included “repeated condemnations of Iran.”

Is it any wonder that a British Airlines spokesperson said such utterances “were threatening and unacceptable,” adding that such talk was “unsettling for the rest of the passengers“?

Not really.

The British response is not out of character, considering the difference in temperament between the English People and the Jewish People, epitomized in a story told by another home-bound Israeli – Yishy Malkov.

Malkov recently returned to Israel after managing an upscale Gordon Ramsay Group restaurant in London, in order to open his own restaurant on King George Street in Tel-Aviv called Bertie. The chef revealed in a newspaper interview in Yediot Aharonot that his years in London taught him the difference between Brits and Israelis: An Israeli diner will immediately speak up when he or she has a complaint, enabling the chef to make amends.  “A Brit will eat politely what he’s served, go home, sit down and write a complaint in detail with three copies,” said Malkov. One such complaint that stuck in his mind concerned a bloke who sat stolidly and stoically on a protruding nail throughout his meal, and it never occurred to the Brit to request they replace his chair!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but all things considered – I think I’ll stick with El-Al.

© April 19, 2012, all rights reserved by the author.
Contact the author at sabbathpieceofmind@gmail.com

About the Author
Daniella Ashkenazy is a bilingual Israeli journalist and the founder and CEO of Chelm-on-the-Med Online, a news outlet in English of zany news from Israel culled from the Hebrew press, designed to transform preconceptions about Israel – one chuckle at a time