Irritated: flight diverted because a man was praying

Okay… I am a little steamed about this.

From FoxNews.

Plane Quarantined After Being Diverted to Philadelphia

Thursday, January 21, 2010

 A flight was diverted to Philadelphia from LaGuardia Airport after a passenger was reportedly mistaken for having a bomb.

The U.S. Air flight from LaGuardia to Louisville was diverted after a man allegedly strapped on a "tefillin," a device mistaken as an "explosive device," CBS 3 reports. A tefillin has two small black boxes with straps. One box is placed on the head and the other is tied to the arm.

A law enforcement official says the man questioned is not a threat.

The plane was quarantined in Philadelphia after a number of firetrucks and police officers met them on the tarmac. [Because a man was praying.]

Passengers were all safely taken off the USAir flight, run by Chautequa Air.

The airport is reportedly staying open and flights are not affected.


In other words… the flight was diverted because the man, a Jew, was praying.

Are the flight crews of airlines so ignorant that they don’t know what tefillin are?   I find that hard to believe, especially on flights from New York.

TSA staff knew what they were, apparently.  And if TSA staff know…

You would think that airlines, in the present environment, would have some training for staff that might include recognizing religious differences.  I can see it now: conference room… powerpoint…. "This is a Jew….. this is a Sikh… this is a Catholic…", as the flight attendants stare open-mouthed.

Sometimes on airplanes I have said my breviary.  I have said a rosary.  Granted, those don’t involve strapping on tefillin and bowing repeatedly while praying.  Neither involve shouting allahu akbar and storming the cockpit. 

But is praying, in general, now to be held in suspicion on airplanes?

For those of you who don’t know what tefillin are, they are leather straps with small boxes which are bound around the arms and forehead.  They contain verses of Scripture.   Tefillin are the famous "phylacteries" which the Lord mentions in Matthew 23.  They are inspired by Deuteronomy 6, the famous Shema.

Perhaps the only proper behavior on a flight now is to go to sleep and hope you don’t wake up before you land.

"But Father! But Father!", some of you will object.  "Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?  You should praise the flight staff for being careful in the face of something they didn’t understand! You might know about tefillin, but lots of people don’t.  They may have never heard of them, much less seen them."

We are talking here about a Jew, praying.  And flight crews need training.

There are dozens, nay rather, hundreds of more serious security problems and this is the sort of knuckle head stuff they are focused on.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. You can bet the proposed solution is to prohibit praying or praying instruments such as this on the planes. Pretty soon a Rosary will be outlawed.

  2. SonofMonica says:

    I hope they don’t outlaw praying on flights, because besides reading, that’s pretty much all I do. Gosh, I hate turbulence.

  3. Roland de Chanson says:

    If the security dolts didn’t know what tefillin are, they do now and the problem will not recur.

    Of course, your average shoe and underpants bombers also now know ….

  4. Joan M says:

    So, if the cabin crew didn’t know what the man was wearing, were they so terrified that one of them could not have quietly asked him what it was?

    This is ridiculous! Surely someone with a bomb would not want people to know about it until, at least, the moment when he would set it off? Surely no one would strap it on his head and arm?

    I know that things were much more peaceful when I was an air hostess in the late sixties and early seventies, but if I had seen someone wearing, or putting on, tefillin, I would approach him in a friendly manner and talk to him.

    At least, we can pray the rosary without rosary beads if praying instruments are forbidden – we don’t even have to move our lips unless we want to! It can be mentally prayed instead of recited.

  5. irishgirl says:

    That’s my fear, too, Fr. Marie-Paul.

    When I used to fly, I would hold a small hand-crucifix and pray a little prayer that I always say when I begin a journey. I was very unobtrusive when I said it, however. Then after the plane was airborne, I put the crucifix back in my Rosary case which would be in my purse.

    Yes, Fr. Z-flight crews DO need training! Couldn’t they tell the difference between how an observant Jew prays and how a Moslem prays [sorry, I use the old spelling]?


  6. cnaphan says:

    Perhaps they classify prayer aids as “wireless communication devices” and thus, forbidden on a plane?

  7. cnaphan: LOL!

    Needed humor. Thanks.

  8. lofstrr says:

    Regardless the rhetoric, people are not taught in school nor trained in college to understand a pluralistic society that has and tolerates people of different faiths. We are being taught to be secularists and atheists and all signs of external faith are seen as strange and suspicious. It is not freedom of religion but freedom from religion. Our schools are teaching kids how to be stupid.

  9. lofstrr says:

    “At least, we can pray the rosary without rosary beads if praying instruments are forbidden – we don’t even have to move our lips unless we want to! It can be mentally prayed instead of recited.”

    Yes we can, but should we have to? Why have religious instruments become alien to our culture? Why are we taught to fear those who pray rather than embrace or at least tolerate them? How much does civil society loose when it looses the ability to recognize people praying?

  10. Dominic says:

    @ irishgirl: Yes they could do with training!
    But hmmm… You said “Couldn’t they tell the difference between how an observant Jew prays and how a Moslem prays” Would all this commotion have been justified if it had indeed been an ordinary Muslim saying his prayers?

  11. Tom in NY says:

    Evidently, it was time to pray for Guidance. Until then, watch out for those scribes and Pharisees with extra-big tefilot and wider prayer-shawls (Mt. 23:5).
    Salutationes omnibus.

  12. RichardT says:

    I’ve never heard of them, or seen them. And I think if I were a member of an air crew, not long after someone tried to blow up a plane by setting fire to his underpants, I would be suspicious if a passenger started strapping black boxes to himself.

    Yes, if airlines start getting twitchy when people pray, that will be bad. But we aren’t there yet. This is ignorance (and an ignorance that I shared in as well) – and the answer to ignorance is education.

  13. RichardT says:

    cnaphan – I like it!

  14. incorpore says:

    I presume that the flight was actually operated by ChautAUqua Air. For the record, Chautauqua is owned by Republic Airways, the CEO of which is surely appalled this morning. Bryan Bedford is a shining example of a faithful Catholic business leader – certainly he’ll fix this in as much as he has the power to do so.

  15. Frank H says:

    Evidently I need to get out more. I had never heard of this form of prayer, either.

  16. Amerikaner says:

    Shocking. Even more so as the flights were between two cities where people should know better.

  17. lucy says:

    I don’t think most folks know what these things are. The only reason I recognized it is because I often use EWTN’s Holy Lands Rosary program to pray late at night. There are Jews shown at the wall wearing this teffilin. I have no idea what they are doing, but I recognize it. But, Fr. has a point that in NYC, this should be familiar.

  18. o.h. says:

    This is why our homeschool’s motto is “Knowledge is better than ignorance.” Ignorance of religious faith and practices is widespread; my adolescent daughter’s friend, a bright girl who has always attended public school, shocked my daughter soon after they met by not knowing what the word “Catholic” meant. She had never encountered it, at home, school, or in any of her (carefully chosen) books.

    Of course the crew didn’t know what tefillin are; and once they found out, their sense that this was something strange and alien was undoubtedly heightened, thanks to the deliberate and longterm campaign of expunging even references to religion from the public square and public schools. The unknown = the dangerous.

  19. Chris M says:

    Well, I had to explain to TSA screeners what my Rosary was. I guess they thought it was suspicious since it was hematite and looked like BBs or something like that. Go figure.

  20. Gabriel Austin says:

    Presumably the boy had been logged in at the security checkpoint. If he had been asked “what is this?”, he could have explained. The security people could have looked it up in their manuals.

  21. btdn says:

    When I flew this past June, my carry-on was suspicious enough looking to the x-ray viewers that it had to be hand inspected (on the way back, they were going to, but I guess they saw that I wasn’t all that threatening looking). I suppose that several books with a few electrical chords looks something like a bomb.

    The inspector became bug-eyed when he unzipped my breviary case. He probably thought the travel icon was rather interesting too; he was respectful enough to not use the explosive particle collector wipe over the images…

    I don’t think anyone was concerned when I actually prayed the Office on the flight, though.

  22. Tom Ryan says:

    With Regional Airlines, you get what you pay for:

    But this is in line with the PC thinking that O’Bama’s latest pick was trying to impose on travelers: NRA members = Muslim Terrorists = Latin Mass freaks = NFL fanatics

  23. Girgadis says:

    This is the first time I’ve heard of or seen a tefillin and I went to a high school in Philadelphia where I was friends with quite a few Jewish girls and their boyfriends.(I totally get it that someone working for an airline should be able to recognize what it is). Is it something unique to Orthodox Jews? You never know what you’re going to learn on this blog!

  24. Hey, come on, give the guys some slack. Yes, they need to be better trained, but what about where the “reporter of the incident”, whomever it may be (passenger or not) was from (which I didn’t see in the article)?

    Maybe he’s from say, Iowa, where there aren’t too many Orthodox Jews with tefillin. Or what about Montana? (I don’t know too many of them who live there.)

    But that’s just my two cents there.

    @Girgadis — I think the Jews that you were talking about were Reform Jews (I had a couple of them in class during my high school years). They usually don’t apply tefillin when they go pray — at least, as far as I know.

    But I am not sure on whether they are unique to Orthodox Jews, because there are Conservative Jews [not necessarily politically conservative but Torah-abiding conservative] who may do this too. However, I haven’t met any Conservative Jews personally, so I can’t state this as a full fact. Indeed, anyone here know a Conservative Jew?

  25. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Never seen this before either. I suspect this is all about ignorance more than suppression of religious expression.

    Yea, security groups should be aware of tefillins, Rosaries, prayer beads. More to the point such groups should be aware of the difference between real threats and the harmless, in any form.

    These are the same dudes that pat down white-haired grandmothers…and how about that 8-year-old kid on the no-fly list?

    Perhaps a more apt description is: mindless bureaucracy.

  26. Paul says:

    I fly quite a bit for business and always have a handmade rosary in my pocket to pray during the many, long delays. Twice in the US, I’ve been questioned by TSA officers at the airport as to the purpose of the rosary and why I would be carrying it outside of a church. Flying into communist China, the only time anyone ever said a single word was an airport security officer who was toting a large rifle (they know how to do security there!). He pointed at it, smiled at me, and said, “I am Catholic too.”

    Go figure.

  27. TonyLayne says:

    I hate to admit this but, as much as I pride myself on being reasonably well educated about Judaica (at least, for a shaygets), I might have given the man the hairy eyeball myself until I’d figured out that they were tefillin. I’d heard and read about them, but never seen them worn. I’ve known a few Jewish people, but never in a context where I would see them daven. But you’d figure someone would be intrigued enough to ask before pulling the alarm cord. Are we that afraid of talking religion? (That’s a rhetorical question, of course.)

  28. Dave N. says:

    “And if TSA staff know…”


    People need to get out a little more…

  29. Tom Ryan says:

    T.S.A. : Thousands Standing Around

  30. I’ve heard of them, but I had no idea so much arm strapping was involved. If something like that were in an anime, it wouldn’t just explode, it would melt the fabric of time and space!

    That said, I agree that you’d think this would be covered in some kind of of multicultural awareness class.

Comments are closed.