Yesterday, we were perplexed and intrigued by a photo of an Orthodox Jewish man covered in a plastic bag on an airline flight. It turned out that the man is a Kohen, holy priests (and their descendants) who are prohibited from flying over cemeteries for religious reasons. After some brainstorming, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv had suggested that "wrapping oneself in thick plastic bags while the plane crossed over the cemetery is permissible." However, we talked to a spokeswoman for El Al, Israel's national airline, who told us this is no longer a concern—because planes have been specifically re-routed to not fly over cemeteries anymore. Having said that, "it's for sure unusual," rep Sheryl Stein told us.
Stein said she believed the photo in yesterday's post was at least ten years old: "[A colleague] remembered this from at least 10 years ago," she said, noting how memorable it was. An article delving into the details of the issue in Yated had estimated that there would still be problems with routes through 2013, but Stein says it has since been remedied: "I don't think it happens anymore."
We've been sent another photo of a Kohen covered on a plane (which we haven't been able to date yet). When asked whether El Al would supply a flier with a bag if they so requested, Stein said she believed they would: "I don't think it's an issue at all."
According to frequent flier and blogger Ze'ev Back (who works in Israel), El Al goes out of their way to accomodate extremely religious Jews to a fault: "Flights are delayed because these fanatic Jews refuse to take their seat next to a woman. The air companies are afraid to lose this clients or be accused of antisemitism, so instead of throwing their suitcase out of the plane and leave them behind—the flight attendants start going down the aisle looking for a volunteer to swap seats. In the meantime the pilot loses its slot and has to wait for a new allocated slot, damaging everybody in the name of their religion."
Even so, you can't please everyone: in 2008, Orthodox Jewish rabbis gave El Al low ratings because they allowed in-flight movies on flights.
The real loser in this whole Kohen/plastic bag/airline grab bag? A little company called poshAir, who had a simple dream: to create the world's first in-flight sleeping bag. Unfortunately, the $99.99 poshAir bags, made of 65 percent polyester and 35 percent cotton machine-washable fleece, never quite caught on, and the company doesn't even seem to have a website anymore. It could have been the perfect, comfortable niche product for a niche market.