Fly the friendly skies — or go to Israel
August 18, 2010
“El Al and JetBlue will now offer connecting options for customers traveling between the United States and Israel…. [B]eginning in October passengers can buy a single ticket for connecting service between Ben Gurion Airport and 61 JetBlue flight destinations in North America from New York’s JFK International Airport.” — JTA
Dear JetBlue employees:
Welcome to the El Al family — or as we say in Hebrew, Bruchim haba’im! We’re so excited about our new partnership. We here at Israel’s national air carrier are eager to make this transition as smooth as possible and thought it would be helpful to sensitize you to some of the cultural differences you may encounter with your new customer base.
Of course, we had planned to write this memo even before reading about the unfortunate incident involving Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who gave new meaning to the term “flight risk.” We here at El Al take very seriously his violations of federal law, which include using the plane’s P.A. system to curse at a rude customer, grabbing two beers from the galley, sliding down the inflatable emergency chute, and sprinting toward home. We have instructed our employees that Mr. Slater is not a role model, going so far as to ask our flight attendants to remove the eight-by-10 photographs of Mr. Slater that had been adorning their lockers. Ditto the “I’m with Steve-O” buttons some had taken to wearing.
However, to avoid a repeat of the Slater incident, we wanted to introduce you to some of the, shall we say, unique aspects of a flight to Israel. To wit:
Security lines: Passengers are instructed to arrive at the airport six hours before a flight. This may seem excessive, but Israel’s crack security service demands it on the theory that no terrorist would be dedicated enough to spend six hours in a crowd of Jews. Kidding! The six-hour time period allows our security team to ask essential questions of our passengers, including “Do you have family in Israel? Where do they live? What is the purpose of your visit?” It also allows time for the person behind you in line to ask the very same questions, in even greater detail. What you might call “intrusive rudeness” is merely what our people call “Jewish geography.”
Luggage: We allow each passenger to stow luggage weighing up to 6,000 pounds. Again, this may seem generous by American standards, but it is in response to our passengers’ need to bring books for their cousins in B’nei Brak, appliances for their neighbors’ in-laws in French Hill, and industrial-size boxes of M & M’s for Israeli soldiers.
Boarding: We board our flights for maximum efficiency, in the following order: Families with young children, families with six or more young children, families with eight or more young children, individuals with physical limitations, individuals with aches and pains that may be something but they won’t know until they see a specialist, individuals who cut in line, and gentiles.
Carry-on luggage: You may not think a double stroller, six Borsalino hat boxes, and a Samsung flat-screen television are able to fit in an overhead bin, but please don’t underestimate our passengers. During this portion of the flight it might be a good idea for flight attendants to retreat to the galley and have a beer. Or two.
Safety instructions: Hebrew is written from right to left. Similarly, in order to accommodate our passengers’ unique sensibility, our instructions are delivered backward. When we say, “Please do NOT stow items under the seat in front of you,” our passengers think, “I’ll damn well stow my items anywhere I want to,” before stowing them under the seat. When we say, “Please move freely about the cabin,” our passengers respond, “If they think I am budging from this seat, they have another think coming.” It works like a charm.
In-flight behavior: At some point during the lengthy overseas flight, bearded men will crowd the aisle, wrapped in leather straps and white shawls. Do not be alarmed! They will not ask you to join them!
Food service: As a Jewish airline, we serve clientele with unique dietary needs. Our choices include kosher, glatt kosher, kosher dairy, kosher meat, kosher pareve, glatt kosher dairy, gluten-free kosher meat, lactose-free kosher with nuts, lactose-free kosher without nuts, low-salt kosher pareve, high-salt gluten-free kosher meat, and “just bring me a box of cereal and some milk.” Remain calm and do not reach for the emergency chute.
Landing: Passengers will often burst into applause when the plane touches down in Israel. This is because a) they are deeply moved by the thought of arriving in the Land of their Ancestors; b)they are still surprised, even after 60 years, that a Jew can safely pilot an airplane; or c) they are relieved that they no longer have to listen to the guy in the middle seat complain about Obama.
We hope you find these tips useful as you welcome El Al passengers aboard JetBlue. We know how stressful it can be dealing with passengers in the age of airline deregulation, overcrowded planes, and erratic departure times. But whenever you are tempted to “go Slater” on one of our passengers, please remember the old Hebrew saying: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Andrew Silow-Carroll is Editor-in-Chief of the New Jersey Jewish News. Between columns you can read his writing at the JustASC blog.