Prayer on the Plane: A Threat?
When the news broke last week that a flight was diverted due to a suspicious passenger engaged in a prayer ritual, I couldn’t help but remember a trans-continental flight I was on, many years earlier, to Jerusalem. At the time I was a very nervous flyer, the kind who has to stay awake all flight long to make sure “nothing happens.”
It had been dark outside for several hours, the cabin was dimmed, and most passengers were sleeping. I was looking out the window, and noticed that dawn was beginning to change the colors of the sky. Right around this time, I noticed a man walk up to the emergency exit. He seemed to be chanting something and he kept bowing at the door, and I began to get really frightened that the man was disturbed and that he would open the emergency exit door. My sister, wide awake beside me, got the same thought into her head, and we sat there in our seats, ready to spring forward at any second and tackle the guy should he make a move toward opening the door.
Ridiculous, right? I guess we were just ahead of our time, as that bowing, muttering passenger was doing the exact same thing the passenger last week was doing that caused a big security incident: saying prayers. The passenger last week was removed from his plane. The passenger on our plane just went forward with what he was doing. When others came to join him, I realized that they all were wearing tefillin (which can look a lot like cables and wires), and that they must be Orthodox Jews involved in their morning prayers.
There’s much debate going on in the blogosphere about whether or not the incident with the man praying last week was an overreaction or not. Unlike the flight that I was on so many years ago, the man last week was apparently up on his feet praying at a time when flight attendants had ordered all passengers into their seats. The man last week was also praying in an entirely different era, in a post-9/11, post-underwear-bomber world. When asked to return to his seat, he continued on with his prayers (apparently, the nature of the prayer is that once it has begun it must be completed in its entirety with no interruptions). The airline exercised a maximum of caution and decided to divert the flight. Of course, it was determined later that the man was never actually a threat.
What do you think? Do you think the passenger had a right to complete his prayers, or was the airline correct in taking the precaution to divert the flight?
Western Wall photo courtesy of Michael Berg.
My name: Rachel Berg.
Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.
View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.
Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.
Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.
Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.