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. Chris Hanson

    I respect religions but cmon after 9-11 you should know better than to pull something like this.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  2. Muneef

    It is though very much favored to recite prayers on board planes taking up to high in the sky,we Muslims say that the prayer to God for self and all beloved is having some sort of priority to accept and respond to when man on the travel...as well as when heavily raining with tender storms and lightning....

    Doing that in every flight trip I take make me at rest that if any thing happened on the way at least then if died will not go waste but would face the mercy of God on my soul... Because there only in the upper heavens or mid oceans you have nothing but the mercy of God and nothing in hand to relay upon trying to save self...!!!

    March 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • 21k

      plenty of people pray or meditate quietly on flights. no need to involve others in one's own particular beliefs. by the way, the things keeping you aloft over the ocean are the thrust produced by the engines, the aerodynamics of the wings, and the skill of the pilots.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Muneef


      Of course yes it is that but then beiside God mercy to keep to waters still for you from heavy sea storms and waves...which not all can stand with out mercy...

      March 14, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  3. Wolf

    Ignorant people and their stupid, archaic religious practices. Conversely, ignorant people and their stupid, knee-jerk reactions. Makes a Wolf want to stay in the cave all day.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • idecomp

      YOU a wolf..., wolf?

      March 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  4. jason

    Whats the world coming to when you can't even pray or sing praises out loud without everyone assuming its a call to holy war . I think more people should be educated to understand other beliefs , ceremonial garments and traditions before they flip out and profile others as being shady characters.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • 21k

      ask congressman peter king about this.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  5. jason

    Whats the world coming to when you can't even pray or sing praises out loud without everyone assuming its a call to holy war . I think more people should be educated to understand other beliefs , ceremonial garments and traditions before they flip out and profile others as being shady characters.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  6. James

    As a Jew myself I am horrified at some of these comments.

    1. It has been over 5000 years since Jews were the same tribe as Arabs (pay attention in history)

    2. Yes the barechu, shema, vehafta, avot, givurot, and kaddish must be aloud. Almost all prayers must be aloud because speech is the highest form of prayer, it shows your devotion to God and his word no matter what may happen to you. (read your own terribly translated book)

    3. Jews were in Israel more than 3000 years before Islam ever existed. They were then kicked out by the Romans because of Jesus causing a coup but returned during 500 A.D. about 100 years before Muhammed was born. The Muslims then kicked us out again though persecution and mass murder. We then return in 1947 and are given an equal a seventh of the land given to Palestinians. We then win multiple wars in which we were attacked first and are forced to give back more than half of the rightly won land, no other country has been forced to give back land it has won in over 2000 years. (once again history which I'm guessing you all failed that week) This means Israel has right to build as many settlements and bulldoze as many houses they want because the Palestinians gambled that land in war and lost.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • 21k

      i studied history , not mythology.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Alex

      You are blaming Jesus for the great Jewish revolt and the siege of Jerusalem by Vespasian? Always the victim.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • idecomp

      Good post. I liked it.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Muneef

      Al-Isra sura 17:
      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
      Say (unto mankind): Cry unto Allah, or cry unto the Beneficent, unto whichsoever ye cry (it is the same). His are the most beautiful names. And thou (Muhammad), be not loud-voiced in thy worship nor yet silent therein, but follow a way between. (110) And say: Praise be to Allah, Who hath not taken unto Himself a son, and Who hath no partner in the Sovereignty, nor hath He any protecting friend through dependence. And magnify Him with all magnificence. (111).

      March 14, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • frewt

      Jews are on occupied land and Israel will fall in 20 years...google it, time to sell those black suits.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Muneef


      You said "1. It has been over 5000 years since Jews were the same tribe as Arabs (pay attention in history)"

      So if Jews are Arabs and Palestinians are Jews Arabs who were there before Christianity and Islam out of which few remained Jews and few became Christians and last few became Muslims ?? Then that means your Jews who came from abroad came to kill your brother jews because they became into other faiths ?? Or because they are no longer white skinned and not having sideburns?? Why if you state to be of one race still go on killing each other?? Unless what you say is not true....and your people are converts and not from the orginal tribe of Arabs...!!?

      March 14, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  7. gayfocker

    So I guess its ok to read out the bible next time I fly?
    Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is The Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you."

    March 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  8. Muneef

    Why do they need to wear all these things just to have a worship or pray to God? Is it supposing that God will not be able to hear or see them if not wearing it?

    All you need to pray is to be on ablution to preform ritual, clean clothing,and a clean spot to commence it...nothing else...although understand the Shia'a Muslims have to carry some sort of black round shape disc to land their forehead on upon worship prostrating...and that just make me wonder what could the idea be behind that and wonder if a day would come we will be seeing some faiths come with antenna...?!

    March 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • mo

      no, G-d can see and hear you without it, It's a form of worship

      March 14, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • purplepuppy

      Jewish men particularly wear a Tallit or (Tallit Katan somewhat like an under shirt) with The knotted fringes (Tzitzit) When ever they are outside the house. Also the Tafalin is worn during prayer because it is written in the The Old Testament or also known as the Torah. It is all part of their clothing. I also would probably pray on an air plane these days too, and if I were to be picked on for wearing my Tallit may be offended, even though being a female am not required to.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Muneef

      Wow A Jewish Female, ,,,hi there cousin am an Arab Muslim from Yemen,we both are on Abrahamic faith...so i wonder if we are cousins in faith are we some how cousins in blood ??

      March 14, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Muneef

      Tell me you are joking please? "Being a form of worship" OK I agree with you, but are you seeing yes God can see and hear with out it or you mean to say no God can see or hear with out is...?? Getting confused here.... Although I believe you mean to say it is not needed but it is a form of worship....?

      March 14, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  9. hoppy

    it is ok however to pray on a plane if snooky is your flight attendent.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Cueball

      I would pray a lot more if she was my pilot.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  10. ek

    Forget religion, forget race – neither should be an issue. The bottom line is that their is a certain etiquette that should be followed by any and all passengers on a plane. It helps ensure the safety and comfort of the passengers, as well as ensures that everyone can get where their going on time and with minimum interruption. Traveling is stressful enough without a group like this disturbing or upsetting other passengers. I respect their religion and their right to observe traditions, but they made the decision to fly, and they should not be allowed to disrupt the comfort of those around them, let alone the operations of the flight itself.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • JPS

      Completely agree

      March 14, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • gretchen

      fr ek:

      >...Traveling is stressful enough without a group like this disturbing or upsetting other passengers. I respect their religion and their right to observe traditions, but they made the decision to fly, and they should not be allowed to disrupt the comfort of those around them, let alone the operations of the flight itself.<

      No, you don't "respect their religion and their right to observe traditions". It's blatantly obvious, and NONE of your business when someone is quietly praying.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  11. jmiker

    It doesn't matter WHO you are, WHAT your religion is, WHAT your 'sincere' intention was – when you put yourself on an airplane, in today's environment, with people of all nationalities, you are REQUIRED to show cognizance of and deference to the small bubble of society that ALL wish to make the trip and land safely. If you are ignorant of, or make a stupid judgment about the precarious situation you and 150 to 300 of your closest friends are in, then you my friend need to spend a few weeks in a jail to ponder your screwup. And feel DA*N lucky no one else on that plane decided to "Let's roll" on your short-sided hiney. IMHO.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Shannon

      What part of "religious freedom" do you not comprehend?

      I'd much rather have some oddly dressed, loudly praying dudes next to me on a plane than some quiet, reserved sociopath with a vendetta against obstetricians.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • MK

      Think about what you just said the next time someone opens a bible on the plane or breaks out their rosary beads.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  12. huxley

    If they were Muslim, they'd already be at Guantanimo strapped to a waterboard.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Chris Hanson

      Lol hahha. Sad but true.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  13. Shawn

    Wearing a bulky item and praying out loud in another language while presenting yourself as a religious fundamentalist isn't something I would suggest.... I would have been concerned, myself. Though, honestly, any religious fundamentalist concerns me.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Shannon

      Indeed...fundamentalism is dangerous, regardless of religion.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  14. 21k

    2000 years ago: muslims, jews were ALL from the same arabic tribes. today: these 3 get questioned and released. if they were on the other team, they'd be in gitmo for doing the same thing.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • blessedgeek


      March 14, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • chumlee

      The difference is that thses guys were praying. The other side would have been trying to blow up the plane.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  15. Who knows

    They were coming from where? Oh, well , you know what they say - Jeus never knows!

    March 14, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  16. JoePelican

    What's with all the BLOG BS on CNN? I thought you were a news service.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  17. JoePelican

    I loaded my pants on takeoff. Maybe they'd like to inspect my diaper on arrival.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  18. gayfocker

    Hi- outburst is anything that becomes distracting to other people. An oxymoron would be – the silent outburst hurt the feelings of many in the room. Is that educated enough answer for you? I still say that an airplane should be a relaxing escape for all who fly, and should not be distracted by others who don't shower and smell, are loud obnoxious drunks, pass gas, smoke in the bathroom, pray outloud, and do other obnoxious human behavior that makes me just want to puke.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Alex

      Sounds like you need to fly first-class.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  19. Dave R

    No charges? Come on, these guys did what they did just to cause a stir. Throw the book at them!

    March 14, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Demo

      The airline and government caused the stir. The Jewish flyers were only praying. Southwest tosses hot chicks because their skirts are too short, Alaska tosses folks because they pray in another language.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • lou50

      you are right they need to conform. they were smart enough to know what they were doing would cause an issue. stick them in jail for 24 hours and teach them a lesson.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • mo

      do you think this is the only flight that some jews put on religious articles and pray, you're wrong if you think thats why they did that!

      March 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • idecomp

      Your ignorance amazes me.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • MK

      They did not do it to cause a stir, they did it because they are religious men and they pray at certain times of the day. It is what they believe. It may not be what you believe and it may be different from what I believe but they did not do it to cause a stir. Th What caused a stir are the people on the plane who are so uneducated that they did not know that the men were simply praying.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Alex

      These people were praying by themselves according to their custom, well within their right in a free country. Just because the pilots and apparently you are too stupid to know the difference between an orthodox Jew and an Islamic terrorist is not their fault. Even if the passengers were Muslim they have a right to pray wherever they feel like it. That's what this country was founded on, not your wacko idea of a socialist state.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • gambino

      Dave R you're an angry man. A hater. Careful Dave, you can make yourself sick with all the negative acid building up inside you.
      Dave, these Jews are simply wearing the same phylacteries you've seen on T.V. dozens of times, worn by Israeli soldiers. The same phylacteries Jewish Jesus wore in his day. So, Dave, how you feeling pal?

      March 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  20. Giampaolo

    This CNN forum, and the vitriol it has induced, is a good example of precicesly why a civilized society keeps religion out of the public forum... (and for the record, the high stress atmosphere of an airplane is clearly a particularly bad forum to inject religion). This is a debate I'm glad we're not having at 30,000 feet!

    March 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
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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.