A Little Conversation
If there’s one thing that both tourists and local citizens can agree on, it’s the fact that Israel is BIG on security. I figured this out the moment my family and I reached the airline counter for our connecting flight in Hong Kong International Airport. If you keep yourself updated about current events and world affairs, you’ll totally get why.
Security screening is customary in international travel, but prepare to go through a more extensive one when traveling to Israel via El Al. An El Al employee will approach you and ask A LOT of questions before you finally get your ticket or move on to luggage screening and security checkpoint.
Where are you going? Have you visited Israel before? Are you part of a group? Do you have a guide in Israel? What’s his name? Where are you staying and which places are you visiting? What is the purpose of your travel? How long do you intend to stay in Israel? Do you have relatives in Israel? Who packed your bags? Has it remained in the same room since packing? Did anyone give you anything, like a gift, to give to someone in Israel? What’s your religion?
Hearing these questions was quite amusing. Deep down, I was like “Come on, officer. Do we look like we’re carrying bombs? How can a family of six vertically challenged Chinks be a threat to the Israeli nation?” We were also asked to leave our entire luggage unlocked when they learned that there was a laptop in one of them. Upon reclaim, it was apparent that our bags had been opened, and we were relieved to know that nothing was lost.
Being surrounded by armed officials and having your luggage opened can feel a bit intimidating and intrusive, but as the old saying goes, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”. Just keep your cool, be truthful, and consider it as part of the whole experience. Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t that bad, and it actually made me feel safe.
A trip to Israel is not complete if you do not come across the concept of “kosher”. El Al serves kosher in-flight meals. There are kosher and non-kosher restaurants. Our Airbnb host asked if we wanted a kosher kitchen. Our Israeli tour guide keeps kosher, while the guy sitting next to me in the plane doesn’t. So what is kosher, and what isn’t?
I wasn’t able to fully grasp the concept of kosher until our guide explained and demonstrated it to us during one of our meals. Kosher, in a nutshell, is a set of Jewish dietary laws dealing with what foods can and cannot be eaten, and how those foods must be prepared. Kosher food IS NOT Israeli food, nor is it a style of cooking. Thus, Chinese, Thai, or Filipino food can be kosher as long as it’s prepared in conformity with Jewish law. There are a number of rules, but these are the ones I remember:
- Pork is forbidden.
- Seafood is allowed as long as it has fins and scales. This means that crab, shrimp, and oyster aren’t allowed, while tuna, salmon, and tilapia are okay.
- The meat of birds and mammals cannot be eaten with dairy, and utensils that have come into contact with meat cannot be used with dairy, and vice versa.
Rule 3 came as a bit of a surprise to us. What about marinating chicken kebab in yogurt sauce, or drizzling yogurt over beef and lamb skewers? We once asked a waiter in a kosher restaurant for yogurt sauce when our guide intervened, and reminded us that dairy cannot be eaten with meat.
Bearded Men in Suits
“Who are those bearded men in black suits and hats?” “What about that round piece of cloth on their heads?” I asked the guy seated next to me in the plane, and learned that the men in suits are Orthodox Jews. According to my seatmate, they are the “super religious” and the ones with round piece of clothing on their heads are also religious, but not as religious. Now, I’m no expert on religion, and I’m not in a position to talk about a group of people I had just seen for the first time. One thing is for sure though—these men reminded me of Sherlock Holmes and Rich Uncle Pennybags, the old man with a moustache in a top hat who serves as the official mascot of the classic Monopoly game.
Overall Thoughts on Flying with El Al
Flying El Al is not cheap, but if you’re after security, then El Al is the way to go. In case you didn’t know, all pilots are former Israeli Air Force fliers. If that doesn’t sound safe to you, then I don’t know what will.
The seats were as comfortable as any other premium economy class seats. It wasn’t the best, but it was good enough for a 5-foot tall lady like me (being short has its perks too!). Luckily, on both flights, the person next to me upgraded to business class, so that meant a whole extra seat for me, and a chance to stretch out, lie down, and get comfy. The business class, according to my parents, was not the fanciest or most up-to-date on the market, but it was very spacious, and the chairs can be reclined to an almost 180-degree angle.
The food was okay—typical airline food. What I enjoyed a lot was the mocktails. It was refreshing to drink something fruity and sparkly in the middle of a 12-hour flight. We weren’t too impressed with the in-flight entertainment system; the choice of movies was limited, and dozing the flight away was a better option. The crew, though not the most helpful (in comparison to other airlines) was polite, accommodating, and friendly.
Lastly, I would like to commend the marketing team of El Al. Their official slogan didn’t only pique my curiosity; it also captured my attention, and proved itself true. Flying with El Al was a unique experience. It gave me a sneak peek of what was to come, leaving me more excited to finally set foot on Israeli soil to experience the real deal. Truly, El Al isn’t just an airline. It’s Israel.
… I cannot believe that I just wrote about an airline. And no, I am not affiliated with El Al.