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Alaska Airlines sorry for detaining passengers over tefillin

(JTA) — Alaska Airlines has apologized for a flight crew issuing a security alert after three Mexican Orthodox Jews began praying with tefillin. 

The flight attendants, who were concerned by the prayers being said aloud in Hebrew and the unfamiliar boxes with leather straps hanging from them, locked down the cockpit and radioed a security alert ahead to Los Angeles International Airport.

The flight originated Sunday in Mexico City. It was met at the Los Angeles airport by fire crews, foam trucks, FBI agents, Transportation Security Administration personnel and police, according to Reuters.

The men were escorted from the plane and questioned, then released to catch connecting flights with no charges filed.

Alaska Airlines spokesperson Bobbie Egan told JTA that the airline "embraces the cultural and religious diversity of our passengers and employees. We apologize for the experience these three passengers went through after landing in Los Angeles, as well as for any inconvenience to our other customers onboard."

Egan said that the airline plans to incorporate awareness training of Orthodox Jewish religious practices into its ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts and has asked the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle for its assistance.

The error follows an incident in the United States in January 2010, when a US Airways flight from New York to Louisville was diverted to Philadelphia after a 17-year-old passenger’s tefillin were mistaken for a bomb.

In December, the captain of an interisland ferry in New Zealand radioed to security personnel that a passenger was carrying an object that looked like a bomb. Police detained an Israeli and three other passengers in that incident.

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