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. The Vision

    The suspect passenger have no regard for the thoughts of others.....they think they own the place.

    March 15, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  2. Allison

    It's terrible that when people begin to pray in a language others don't understand they're automatically considered terrorists. I think THAT shows what America has become.

    March 15, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  3. John Richardson

    @Lisa Better yet, stick a sock in it altogether till you are somewhere private. Your imaginary friend can wait.

    March 15, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  4. SenzaAtomica

    Some people are so ignorant. It's things like this that make me utterly ashamed to be an American.

    March 15, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  5. dave R

    ALL religions are a bunch of crap. No proof, just blind faith.

    March 15, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • secure

      what he said

      March 15, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • Joe

      Just like atheism, blind faith in nothing.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  6. Paul

    Some folks need a little sense when flying.
    If your religion requires prayer at certain times then have the sense to plan around those times.

    March 15, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  7. Mirada81

    Oy Vey! Stop with all this kvetching over this mishigas already! It's no big whoop. Those three mensch just had shpilkis in their genechtagazoink. Now I'm all ferklempt! Let's change the topic, the chickpea is neither a chick nor a pea. Discuss. Linda R

    March 15, 2011 at 6:28 am |
  8. Mercedes

    I was on a plane a few years ago and shortly after takeoff, a Muslim started praying LOUDLY and in kind of an agitated way, rocking back and forth. Of course we all got tense. He could have been quiet, but he was clearly trying to provoke a reaction and get in people's faces.

    These guys may have been doing the same - it lets you pretend you weren't doing anything wrong and play martyr for a while.

    March 15, 2011 at 6:22 am |
    • hanoman

      Again. How do you know he was a Muslim? Muslims don't pray by rocking back and forth. Go and do some homework. Stop stereotyping people because they have a beard and stop spreading lies.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  9. 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?

    March 15, 2011 at 6:08 am |
  10. Randy G.

    Why is there a need pray out load in public, especially on a plane in a post 911 world? If I need to pray in public, I close my eyes and say my prayers to my God, and keep my mouth shut. Some people clearly live in their own bubble world without any regard to those around them.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:50 am |
    • Lion

      Organized religion in a nutshell...

      March 15, 2011 at 5:59 am |
    • secure

      yeah boy lion!!!

      March 15, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  11. Lion

    I'm quite happy all of you are willing to blow each other up...

    It make us athiest look all that much better.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:49 am |
    • secure

      yeah boy!!!

      March 15, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  12. Patrick

    Mexicans in "Can't understand what they're saying!!" shocker!

    So while the cops and feds are looking at these 3, all the illegals from Mexico are going out the other door and not being checked.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:44 am |
  13. katt

    Once you realize why you reject other religions you'll understand why I reject yours as well...

    March 15, 2011 at 5:44 am |
    • bauhaus99

      Spot on

      March 15, 2011 at 5:53 am |
  14. Chris

    Good thing they weren't wearing turbans or they may have been attacked.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:43 am |
  15. Chris

    This is a classic case of why ethnic studies should not be removed from public schools. You listening Arizona?

    March 15, 2011 at 5:40 am |
  16. maxhedroom

    If you on a plane, pray quietly to yourself. Don't inflict your ersatz religion on the rest of us. How would you feel if I started singing? I have a pretty decent voice but it would get annoying very quickly.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:39 am |
    • Lucas

      Amen. I sat across the aisle on a flight from Canada to NYC on new years day 2010 and there was a Muslim man praying out loud, rocking back and forth, and had a duffle bag in the seat next to him. Scarred the you know what out of me 🙂

      March 15, 2011 at 6:04 am |
    • hanoman

      How do you know he was Muslim? Beard? Skull cap? Just a FYI, Muslims don't pray by rocking back and forth, Jews do. Get you head out of the sand. Let religion have its space.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • John Richardson

      Exactly. I'm conflicted here. There IS a lot of hysteria out there and a lot of overreacting. But gaudy shows of public religiosity in public but enclosed places is an imposition regardless. This was a very self-absorbed act on the part of the three men.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • steveo

      Well, Lucas, maybe if you were not scared of death it would not have been so bad. I really do not understand why people are so scared of the most natural thing on earth, death. We are alive, therefore we must die, deal with it.

      March 15, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  17. inigo

    when the world comes to an end of this sort of injustices will be dealt by God and his angels

    March 15, 2011 at 5:29 am |
    • secure


      March 15, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  18. tokenwhitemale1

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

    Of course there was, otherwise they wouldn't have had 3 different types of cops meet the plane on landing.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:22 am |
    • SNS2

      Of course they were not a threat, they were praying. It was peoples' fear and ignorance that was a threat.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • skylar

      That's not threat that's overreacting. Any time there is a scare like that everyone wants a piece of the action.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  19. Come Together

    This article shows a disgusting long seeded trend of unnecessary hyper hysteria and fear. We shouldn't be fearful and accusing of each other. Have some faith in humanity. The news stations only broadcast stories of hate to subdue the masses into a constant state of fear so the government can gain more control. Name a single facet in your life the government is not involved in..you can't. Read some history, insiting fear into a population is the oldest trick in the book. We need to stop belittling each other and come together. We all have common wants and desires, but the people on the point of the pyramid only seek greed and control. None of the leaders in our country have the masses interest at heart. We outnumber them a billion to one, it's time to accept others and love them as your fellow man.

    March 15, 2011 at 5:20 am |
    • inigo

      you have hit right on the Dianna.

      March 15, 2011 at 5:26 am |
    • John in NY

      Faith in humanity? Have you been outside and seen "humanity" lately?

      And you can't blame hate and fear on our leaders or the press, sure they don't make things better, but man has hated and feared "others" as long as man has existed.

      One thing that sets man apart from animals is that we can choose to over ride our instints and not hate and/or fear what we don't know, but sadly most people either choose not to, or are so insecure that they have degrade others to feel better about themselves (which actually in some ways make us worse then animals since we have a choice.)

      March 15, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Joe Christianson

      Absolutely right.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  20. jonny

    welcome to the so called great america -_-

    March 15, 2011 at 5:16 am |
    • Walker


      March 15, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • CONFORM!

      HOORAY for the War on Anything Unusual!

      March 15, 2011 at 9:04 am |
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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.