To the Editor:
Re: "Alaska Airlines detains passengers over tefillin," I wanted to provide your readers with the results of Alaska Airlines’ internal review of this flight and our official statement.
Shortly after Flight 241 departed from Mexico City bound for Los Angeles, flight attendants observed unusual behavior from three male passengers that continued during the four-hour flight. Out of concern for the safety of all of the passengers onboard, the crew erred on the side of caution and authorities were notified. The crew did not realize at the time that the passengers were Orthodox Jews engaging in prayer ritual in Hebrew.
Here are a few of the issues that concerned the flight crew:
* Flight attendants instructed everyone to stay seated with their seat belts fastened as the aircraft flew through turbulence shortly after takeoff. The three passengers disregarded repeated requests, however, and stood up several times to retrieve objects from their luggage in the overhead bin that the crew had never seen, including small black boxes fastened with what appeared to be black tape. The crew learned after the plane landed that these were tefillin boxes worn during the prayer ritual.
* The men prayed aloud together in a language unfamiliar to the crew while wearing what appeared to be black tape and wires strapped to their forearms and foreheads and wires on their chests. Their actions and behavior made some other travelers and the crew uneasy. The three passengers responded, but provided very little explanation, to a flight attendant’s questions about the tefillin boxes and what they were doing.
* Later in the flight, two of the three passengers visited the lavatories together while the third waited in the aisle and continually looked around the cabin and toward the flight deck door. Flight attendants thought he appeared anxious, as if he were standing guard.
The safety and security of our passengers is our top priority. While our flight crews must be vigilant in watching for suspicious behavior, they are also trained to be aware and recognize the personalities and practices of a very broad and diverse group of travelers. Out of an abundance of caution to protect all of our customers, we misinterpreted the behavior of the three passengers who were praying and wearing tefillin.
Alaska Airlines 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.
To help make sure this misunderstanding does not happen again, we plan to incorporate awareness training of Orthodox Jewish religious practices into our ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts. We’ve asked the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle for its assistance to help us better serve our Orthodox Jewish customers and employees alike.
Spokesperson, Alaska Airlines