Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Overnight Flight to Israel

Flight #64 – United 90
Newark (EWR) – Tel Aviv (TLV)
Sunday, September 15, 2013 
Depart: 10:55PM / Arrive: 4:20PM (+1 Day) 
Duration: 10hr 25min 
Aircraft: Boeing 777 
Seat: 41E and 41F 
Earned: 0 miles (5,692 miles flown) 
Cost: 100,000 miles + $44 taxes / person
Redemption Value: 2.8 cents / mile
Lifetime Miles: 124,227 miles

This photo is from an April 2013 UK Daily Mail article about a religious man who wanted to protect himself from religious impurities by sealing himself in a plastic bag. According to the article, "the plastic bag creates a kind of barrier between the Kohein and the surrounding tumah, or impurity."

I'm withholding judgement (which is pretty tough for a fiercely objective 22 month old toddler who is also half-Jewish), but the point of the post is to highlight how certain people will take measures to maintain their faith on flights and how certain people are just annoying.

Now, segue, to our story. We were seated in 41E and 41F on board United Flight #90 to Tel Aviv which was a Boeing 777-200 plane. Assuming you're not fluent in seating charts for various aircraft, the plane was configured in a 3-3-3 setup. And we were in the middle 3 seat section (Seats D-F) with aisle access for both seats 41D and 41F. After pushing through the Gate Lice congregating at the gate despite the orderly lanes for desginated boarding groups, we boarded early (Group 1 for being United Platinum) and were waiting to see who would take 41D next to my mother.

Normally, we make sure to reserve window seats for my Israeli mother and me, allowing my goy father (that's an O, not an A) to be the buffer between the other person and my occaisional in-flight tirades. However, this time around my mother sat in the middle seat (41E) next to the stranger, so that I would have less opportunity to escape into the aisle while they were sleeping.

Sometimes we get a nice older grandmother who loves little kids. Other times, we get a seasoned business traveler who has built up an immunity from any disruptive babies on the flight. Once, we even had a very distraught older woman who was shocked a baby would even be in the business class cabin and demanded someone change seats with her. But we never had this situation come up before.

A young Hasidic boy (around 14 years old) wearing the traditional black hat and suit came to take his seat in 41D. By his fat hairless cheeks, he looked like he just came from his Bar Mitzvah. Immediately spotting my mother and me sittng quietly in 41E, he then walked away. After talking in Hebrew to his friend (another teenage boy), he started talking to nearby passengers in other rows.

Apparently, as my Israeli mother explained it, Hasidic males are not supposed to sit next to females other than their family members. Since my mother was in the middle seat, that made his adjacent seat off limits. (By the way, if you search Google Images for "fat hasidic teenager" then the first image is of Princess Kate Middleton. Maybe Google knows something we don't...)

My mother told us that if she had switched seats with my father, then everything would have been fine since the Hasidic boy could sit next to my father, even if he wasn't Chosen. But my mother didn't feel the need to inconvenience ourselves to accomodate this kid. If he wanted another seat, he was on his own.

A bit later, a 30-something American man came to take seat 41D after trading his seat in 39D with the young boy. The man didn't make any faces when he saw the adorable toddler sitting beside him (which my mother found comforting, but I personally took offense to, because I'm accustomed now to getting overt compliments from strangers).

As boarding was finishing, however, the man told my mother that if we were lucky, the middle seat in his original row would still be open and that he would return to 39D, forcing the overweight Jewish boy to take the less comfortable middle seat. No way they were going to get an empty middle seat while he was next to a baby on an overnight flight. I didn't know this stranger, but I liked how his brain worked - even if he was implying that he'd prefer to sit next to a fat boy instead of an adorable baby.

And as luck would have it, the seat in row 39 was still open and we now had Row 41 all to ourselves. My mother moved over to 41D and put me down in 41E with my feet up on my father's lap in 41F. Our own row. And my own seat. I have to say, after flying almost 125,000 miles in the past 1.5 years, I'm actually pretty ready to get my own seat. But I digress.

The Aisle Neighbors
Normally, we want to counteract the jet lag by getting on destination time as soon as we board the plane. But with an 11PM Eastern depature, that would have been 6AM in Israel, meaning we should not have gone to sleep at all on the 10 hour redeye flight. Being only a lap child, I'm not as dedicated to the cause of battling jetlag, so I just went to sleep on the (free) empty middle seat between my parents.

I managed to get about 7-8 hours of sleep, while my parents each got about 5-6 hours between watching The Great Gatsby and The Internship.

Sleeping less than 7 hours isn't ideal for someone my father's age, but it was as good as could be expected sitting in Row 41 on a full flight, especially when he had an animated, bearded, black suit wearing gentleman across the aisle from him kept causing a ruckus and reading with the light on the entire flight.

Fortunately, this young gentleman had no interest in interacting with my father at all. Instead, he chose to harass the young Jewish American family sitting in the row in front with two young children (ages 3 and 3 months) who spoke pretty bad Hebrew.

To be honest, it was quite entertaining to watch scene after scene unfold as the man grew increasingly comfortable with asking the parents for countless favors. I stopped keeping track after he grabbed the father's cell phone out of his hand demanding to use it to make a call to Israel and repeatedly asking him to tell his wife to ask the Shiksa flight attendant for some coffee. His "confidence" was quite impressive to say the least.

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