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Flying the Kosher Skies

February 28, 2018 | by Yonatan Levi

How to make your flying experience more “kosher.”

Keeping kosher is not easy but, in some ways, keeping kosher at 30,000 feet in the air is easier than doing so on the ground. This is due to the fact that many airlines offer kosher meals. The proliferation and availability of kosher meals is something that often is taken for granted but should be appreciated every time a kosher meal lands on your tray table.

“Excuse me sir, did you order the kosher meal”?

Airlines, of course, accommodate a myriad of dietary restrictions. Many offer vegetarian meals and some may even offer vegan, pescetarian and fruitarian meals. That does not mean, however, that airlines offer meals to fit every single diet. For example, airlines ordinarily will not offer South Beach meals, Atkins meals, Mediterranean meals or Richard Simmons Deal-a-Meal meals.

When it comes to providing kosher meals, most airlines follow the same basic process. The meals themselves are obtained from a local kosher caterer on the ground who prepares each meal according to each airline’s specifications. In order to ensure that the meals are not tampered with and do not come into contact with non-kosher items, each meal is double-wrapped and hermetically sealed. In fact, opening a kosher meal on an airplane can be almost as difficult as breaking into Fort Knox, the Federal Reserve or a synagogue kiddush before davening is over.

Ordering a kosher meal on a flight has at least one special perk: you usually get your meal before everyone else gets theirs. The reason is relatively practical: flight attendants would rather get the special meals out of the way before they head down the aisle with carts carrying meals for the masses. For flight attendants, the tricky part is figuring out precisely which passengers ordered a kosher meal. Many flight attendants attempt to iron that out before takeoff but sometimes they have to rely on mid-flight instinct:

Flight Attendant: Excuse me, did you order a kosher meal?
Passenger: No, I forgot to. But if you have an extra, I would be forever in your debt.
Flight Attendant: I do have an extra kosher meal, which is why I asked.
Passenger: Fantastic! But there is something that I need to know.
Flight Attendant: What is it?
Passenger: This is a packed flight so how did you know to offer a kosher meal to me?
Flight Attendant: It was obvious.
Passenger: Really? I’m a little shocked because I’m wearing a baseball hat over my kippah.
Flight Attendant: So what?
Passenger: So what exactly led you to believe that I keep kosher?
Flight Attendant: The name on your baseball hat is “Menschy Mashgiachs.”
Passengers: Oh, that’s right! That’s the name of my softball team. But how do you know what a mashgiach is?

Flight Attendant: I don’t. But “Menschy” told me everything that I needed to know.

The interesting thing about kosher food in the sky is that on El Al airlines, the official airline of the State of Israel, the only type of meal offered is a kosher meal. In other words, when you fly on El Al, you will never hear a flight attendant ask: “Excuse me sir, did you order a non-kosher meal?”

Besides kosher meals, there are other ways to make air travel more Jewish. For example, when pilots make announcements over the P.A. system, they could add a few fun facts as follows:

Pilot: Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome aboard flight number 613, non-stop to New York City. We are number two for takeoff and we should have you off the ground in the next few minutes. The weather currently is 24 degree Celsius with winds out of the northwest at 10 miles per hour. We are expecting a smooth ride but we ask that you keep your seatbelts fastened at all times. This week’s Parsha is Tazria-Metzorah, today is the 18th day of the Omer and this week also is Rosh Chodesh and the molad will occur today at seven hours, six minutes and eight chalakim. There will be an Ashkenazic minyan in the front of the plane, a Sephardic minyan in the back and a break-away minyan in the middle. On today’s flight, you may purchase raffle tickets to support a local yeshiva and the grand prize of this year’s raffle is one full year of not being solicited to buy raffle tickets from any Jewish organization. Our E.T.A. into New York City is 6:13 p.m., blee ayin hara. So please sit back, relax and enjoy your flight.

Bottom-line: If you order a kosher meal but do not receive it, speak up. Don’t be (kosher) mealy-mouthed about it.

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