March 14th, 2011
04:17 PM ET

Prayers spark scare on airplane

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

On Sunday, three Orthodox Jewish businessmen triggered fears on a flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles.

Passengers on Alaska Airlines Flight 241 became alarmed when the three men began to pray out loud. "Shortly after takeoff ... three passengers were praying out loud in a language other than Spanish," according to an airline spokeswoman.

"They had something that appeared to the flight attendants to be strapped under their clothing," the spokeswoman said. "The flight attendants alerted the flight deck, who in turn alerted the tower at LAX. Law enforcement met the plane upon arrival."

During weekday prayers, some Orthodox Jewish men wear teflillin, or phylacteries - black leather straps wrapped around the left arm and around the forehead. The straps are connected to small boxes with tiny scrolls containing Jewish scriptures. Many Orthodox Jewish men also wear a prayer shawl called a tallit under their clothes, with knotted fringes at each of the four corners.

The airline spokeswoman said she was unaware if the men were wearing either of these traditional items.

When the planed landed at LAX it was greeted by members of airport police, the FBI and Customs and Border Protection.

According to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller, the men were questioned and their baggage was searched before they were cleared to go.

"The men were extremely cooperative," Eimiller said.

Airport police Sgt. Belinda Nettles told CNN there was never any threat to passenger or aircraft safety.

CNN's Carol Cratty and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • California • Judaism • United States

soundoff (820 Responses)
  1. Joel Miller

    I have seen Christians pray publicly on planes too. No big deal. What a waste of worry, time and money for the security officials.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • John K

      Maybe, but those people were incredibly insensitive to others around them and deserved to be confronted by authorities at LAX.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • iamthefredman

      Godd work by the flight crew. To bad they were already in the air when they noticed the itmes on the men. Why didn't TSA stop them and alert the flight crew these men were coming aboard dressed like this? Straps under their clothes and boxes attached to their bodies and TSA let them on board? Fine to be a praying Jew or Christian but this is ridiculous. They should have been charged with at least disturbing the peace.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • MoodyMoody

      @iamthefredman, maybe it's because the American TSA doesn't have jurisdiction in Mexico City? As screwed-up as we are here in the USA, we can't take the blame for this. I have no idea what airplane security is like in Mexico.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • manman


      the IKA (Imperial Klan of America) dont get charge after their protest and disturbing the peace. you think these people should get charged for praying? LMAO

      March 14, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • pooch


      regardless of "jurisdiction", the us government does dictate that every plane bound for the usa meet certain security standards, and some of that includes certain screening procedures.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Drew

      @ iamthefredman

      I seriously doubt that the boxes under their clothes were not inspected during screening; however, as they did not contain any explosives, it is perfectly reasonable to allow them on the plane

      March 14, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Chris R

      The 'boxes' are really quite small. About the size of few sugar cubes stacked together.

      March 15, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • ashkenazi

      They don't walk around dressed like that. It's only for prayer. Why should they be charged for disturbing the peace? All they did was pray. We have something called freedom of religion here. If you think they should be charged, do you think that all people who pray in public places should be charged? that all street preachers should be charged? that all protesters should be charged? that the person with a crying baby should be met by FBI? that the guy with music a little too loud should be charged? Your idea is pretty ridiculous. Prayer may be stupid, but it isn't disturbing the peace.

      March 15, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • Edwin

      What I wonder about is how these men, with obvious phylacteries on, caused such a stir. When they got on the plane, the flight attendants would have had to see them. If they were dangerous-looking, why did the crew wait until after take-off to do anything?

      A *LOT* of people speak in languages other than the language native to an area, especially on flights to Los Angeles. Perhaps the flight attendants could have ask the men what they were doing before diverting the flight...

      March 15, 2011 at 2:31 am |
  2. salman

    And I love my country. Just not its hypocrites.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  3. Sasha

    "in a language other than Spanish"???? Has it ever occured to anyone that there are hundreds of other languages out there and just because someone speaks one (or more) of them does not make them a threat to you.
    We are a bunch of intolerant, ignorant cry babies. No wonder the world laughs at us.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • HOPE__567

      I often joke, Americans still have mentality of the "Wild West" in their blood, it's just that they ride cars, SUV's and planes instead of horses now...

      I used to read Western novels, and watch Westerns at movies. Since I cam to this country few decades ago, I can't stand them any longer. I see them in real life every day!

      March 14, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • urkiddinme

      IT HAPPENED IN MEXICO!!!! Please read before generalizing, it will make the world a better place.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • sharky

      Yeah I am sure those on the planes during 9/11, the Underware bomber, the Show Bomber yeah they were all ignorant babies too eh.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      urkiddingme, you're RIGHT! They should also call a terror alert if someone prays in ENGLISH, it's not SPANISH.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Lisa

      I just told my Muslim husband that if we want to pray on a plane, we should apparently do it in Spanish so as to not worry any passengers. That is at least what the article seems to imply.

      Gah. Ignorance.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  4. Sarah

    Freaks and their religions. If you want to act like a freak, stay home.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • CSmith

      Freak: a person or animal that is markedly unusual or deformed.

      http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html : 84% of the world's population is religious.

      Now, who's really the 'unusual' one here? Do you intend to stay home from now on?

      March 15, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  5. salman

    Had these guys been MOZLEMZ the media would have spun it in a completely different way and there would be talks of banning prayers in airplanes. Sick of this countries 95 person ignorant population. Wud leave but where to go? I am american and nothing else.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Drew

      Its true that people would generally have been more alarmed if they were Muslim, but is this surprising? Everyone should enjoy the same rights under the law, but you can't blame people for integrating past experiences into their world view; its a tool of survival

      March 14, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • zamir

      DREW, you dont get that terrorism is not created by Muslims, its America itself that creates it,
      the only terrorist you will see is bombs going off in their own country and that again is cause by America, why dont you watch ALJAZEERA ENGLISH because you media takes money from whom they support and turn it around.
      go outside your box and learn about the religions because ISLAM MEANS PEACE.

      March 18, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  6. bostongye

    Why would they pray outloud in a plane? A little naive to think that it wouldnt make people scared.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • ashkenazi

      it's a part of their religion seems like a reasonable answer

      March 15, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  7. Valerie

    I can guess who people were blaming when this happened.. Oops, not Muslim.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  8. Chaps

    A little religious cultural awareness goes along way, especially on a flight to LA where there is a significant Orthodox Jewish community...

    March 14, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • sharky

      Right and how often are you on a plane where you have people praying outloud together?

      March 14, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • ashkenazi

      That's where the cultural awareness comes in. Orthodox Jews pray at specific times in the day. So if there are a group of them, they'll all pray together. Also they have to do it standing and outloud. Just because you or others are ignorant, doesn't mean you can point and accuse others of being a danger to safety without any reasonable grounds.

      March 15, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  9. philipmcm

    this isnt some little game. this is inoccent people lives (possibly) endangered. you just gotta be careful

    March 14, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  10. Craig Shearer

    Freud was right about the religious.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • HOPE__567

      Freud was delusional man with PHD, he also was a pervert! So much for his psychology!

      March 14, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Drew

      Wellllll, it doesn't take a lot of observation to realize that no one is completely right about anything

      March 14, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  11. nycer

    Religious fanatic freaks.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Smite Me

      Yes, it's difficult to tell one superst.itious, voodoo, mumbo-jumbo chant from another.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Che-3

      You BET!
      Bunch of HYPOCRITE Jews like the Gentiles or the Pharisees thinking they are HOLIER than THOU. It’s ALL about showing OFF and seeking girly attention.

      March 14, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Che-3

      Not Only that; most Jews don't even know or realize that they behave and ACT like the Gentiles or Pharisees. You compare their actions to the behaviors to Gentiles or Pharisees like Jesus said and with stupidity argue that ; they are NOT Gentiles or Pharisees. They don't even get it!

      March 14, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Chris R

      Uhhh... Che? The gentiles are non-jewish people. So it would be hard for jewish gentiles to be holier than thou in regards to the jewish faith.

      March 15, 2011 at 12:22 am |
    • CSmith

      Yes, because PRAYING is such a freakishly fanatical act. I mean it's not like the majority of the world's (and America's, and Mexico's) population does it on a regular basis or anything. Oh wait, it is!

      March 15, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  12. ckc

    Trust in god people

    March 14, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  13. Christine

    There is a typo, 5th paragraph from the bottom. Plane, not planed:)

    March 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • margot707

      Oops, I flagged YOUR comment in error. I meant to hit the anti-Semitic comment below yours. Sorry.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  14. gayfocker

    Its not like they had Bomb strapped to them – even in mexico city they have excellent security.

    " You can't say bom on a plane!"

    Bom ba-bom, bom,bom,bom,neener!

    March 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  15. Dr said

    Plz read

    March 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  16. Alex

    This is the kind of crap that happens when American media stations promote fear of those who are different. People associate non-Christian prayers with terrorism now.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Bemused

      You mean non-Christian prayers like: "Allahu Akbar"? A very common Muslim phrase that forms part of their prayers; an innocent phrase that just happens to also form part of a battle-cry just before performing extreme acts of violence. I know what I would think if a fellow passenger suddenly started chanting that phrase, or if anything out of the ordinary and possibly threatening happened on the flight. Flights are one situation where everyone needs to just sit down, shut up, read, sleep or watch the movie, and nothing else. Everyone has to respect each other. You only get one chance to be wrong.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:31 am |
    • Vance

      LOL...Christians. So bigotted. So intolerant. So cannabalistic.

      March 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  17. Malek

    Racist media!!! If the men would have been muslims they would have used negative connotations all through the article

    March 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  18. Jeff

    All of the passengers on that airplane who were afraid should be fired from their NPR jobs.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  19. Rod3


    March 14, 2011 at 7:01 pm |


    March 14, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • myklds

      @Belinda..Yeah..you're right, however it would not be hard for the wolf to be in sheep clothing.

      This incident must not be taken lightly, this could be a dry-run for a possible (massive) terrorist attack(s).

      March 14, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Bemused

      Everyone knows the instrument of destruction used on 9/11. Planes are inherently vulnerable due to their speed and gravity. It doesn't take much to upset either and cause a tragedy. Thus, the awareness of most people , especially on planes, has been greatly heightened. Since very few Americans speak Hebrew or Arabic or are versed in the intricacies of every possible religion (there are thousands), how are fellow passengers supposed to separate threatening from non-threatening behavior? A common sense approach might have been for these gentlemen to announce to the ticket agent prior to boarding that they may be required to perform that ritual, so it wouldn't be a surprise to everyone. Or they could have prayed quietly. This is not a matter of religion, but of respect; and these gentlemen failed to show the proper respect for their fellow passengers. Why does the tail always have to wag the dog? In this situation, you have many chances to be right, only one to be wrong.

      March 15, 2011 at 6:13 am |
    • stephen douglas

      Belinda, it does not matter if you are Orthodox Jew, Muslim, Christian, Buddist, Wickin, or Voodoo...to board a commerical airliner and launch into prayers that can be overheard by other passengers is totally, deliberately, irresponsible these days. It is complete disregard for the other passengers; it is narcissistic; it is flat out wrong. You are a spineless apologist and idealist who does not get it. These guys knew exactly what they were doing. Terrorism comes in many forms, and what they did was deliberatly inciteful.

      March 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.