The airline that diverted a flight when a Jewish passenger started praying said it was forced to treat the incident as a bomb scare because the teen didn't clearly explain why he had strapped his tefillin — two small black boxes worn by Orthodox Jews during weekday morning prayers — to his head and arm. According to Chautauqua Airlines, which was operating the US Airways Flight from LaGuardia to Kentucky, "[w]hen our crew tried to discuss the issue with the passenger, they did not receive a clear response."
"[I]n the interest of everyone's safety, the crew decided to land in Philadelphia, where a more complete investigation and follow-up with authorities would be possible," the statement continued, according to the Post. The grandmother of 17-year-old White Plains resident Caleb Leibowitz said her grandson "hadn't had the opportunity to pray, so that is why he did it on the plane." She told the Times that upon landing, police boarded the plane and pointed guns at her grandson for "a little bit" and put the teen and his 16-year-old sister Dalia in handcuffs for a few minutes. "We live in a time when people are very skittish," she said. After the incident, authorities placed the siblings and the other passengers on other flights to Kentucky.
FBI Special Agent J.J. Klaber told the Daily News that Leibowitz's tefillin "is something most Americans probably have not seen before." He added that the teen and his sister "were very cooperative" and "were dressed like normal teenagers, except he had a yarmulke on." Apparently, many Orthodox Jews avoid using tefillin on flights so as not to alarm other passengers, and because it is difficult to pray when confined to a seat. According to Chabad.info, perhaps the largest ramification of yesterday's air scare is the fact that "millions of Americans Googled the word 'Tefillin' making it the most searched for word on Google today."