This is my warning for all you naive people who are flying El Al in the future. I had no idea what I was getting into when I found out I was flying this airline courtesy of Birthright.
Well, actually that’s not true. One of my friends said it would be an odd experience and that the Orthodox men pray in the aisles. I thought that had to be an exaggeration, as well as a fire hazard. He had said his very proud Israeli father refused to fly on the airline anymore because of this.
Well, this will be interesting, I thought.
The extra security: Before you are allowed to check in, you will visit a person standing behind a pedestal (like the ones above) and be asked the most mundane questions you can imagine. I was asked questions like, “Are you Jewish?” “Why are you going to Israel?” “Have you been to Israel before?” “Did you pack your own luggage?” “Has your luggage been with you the entire time since you packed it?” “What synagogue did you attend as a child?” “What is your favorite Jewish holiday and why?” “Do you know anyone in Israel?” “What other countries have you traveled to?” “Did anyone give you any packages to bring with you?”
After you answer these questions to the best of your ability (I had zero idea what the name of the schule was that I went to as a kid), you will either be given a white slip of paper or not, and you’ll be sent to check in (finally!).
Three-quarters of us were given white slips, which meant we were being tagged for extra security checks. Our group leader said this had never happened before and we got a little nervous.
What happens in the white room: When they bring you into a windowless room behind a white door with a number on it, you’ll sit and wait for a while. You literally won’t do a single thing other than sit there while they go through your suitcase and ensure you didn’t pack a gun. I was with several other people from my trip and we got restless after a while. We saw they had FRIENDS on DVD under a small, super dated television and we asked if they could put it on.
To our shock, they said yes. So, we waited and watched Friends.
Taking our extra security checks very seriously, obviously.
Spoiler: None of us were taken off the flight and we all made it through.
The flight: the planes are nice. There’s absolutely zero wrong with the aircraft itself. I thought the food was great and although I was sad about the lack of booze offered, I did find out later that you will be served booze if you just ask for it. (PRO TIP!). The flight attendants are very nice. Everything is great!
But the weirdness starts after dinner. When you’re full and (hopefully) happy and ready to perhaps go to the restroom and brush your teeth and wash your face before passing out.
That’s when your flight starts to feel like the Twilight Zone.
First of all: the plane is dark. Or you know, darkened so people can sleep. But as you walk up and down the aisles you notice, in the partitions where the food carts and flight attendants are during the flight have now been replaced with old men praying.
AH. So that’s what he meant by “praying in the aisles.” He meant the aisles that run perpendicular to the passenger aisles.
It was odd. You will also see a lot of women going to the bathroom with a box and coming out with hairnets on or vice versa, they’ll go in with a box and come out with a beautifully coiffed head of hair.
I totally had the song “Wig in a Box” from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch in my head.
The praying in the aisles thing will happen again in the morning, too. But at least this time it’s light out.
So, that’s about it. Otherwise, everything is totally normal and not different from any other flight you’ll ever take. But now at least you can’t say you weren’t warned about the praying in the aisles.