Tuesday, November 1, 2011
What’s more fun than flying to Tel Aviv?
OK, we took a chance. A flight came up on expedia that was way cheaper than all of the other flights. Russian airline. Flight to Tel Aviv through Moscow. Why not? I googled them and they got some good customer reviews. So they have had one crash — What are the chances it will happen again?
As we got closer to the date, I started getting nervous. Does this airline even exist? Expedia sent me an email confirming the flight. I looked the airline up online and called to reconfirm the flight. A0K! All systems go. The flight was on time, and the airline exists. What a relief!
The lovely customer service agent with a strong Russian accent suggested getting to the airport three hours ahead. It would be a big plane after all and it takes time to get everyone on board.
We left Brooklyn on time and were also comforted when Transaero, our airline, had several agents in terminal 4 at JFK and there was a line up of people checking in. We did the same, wandered through duty free, made some purchases, had lunch and came back to our gate, where our fellow travelers were assembling. At first we noticed a fairly large group of Russians from some sort of organized group, all wearing blue and white jackets and the men wearing interesting crocheted hats. Through a process of elimination we decided that they were a part of a dance group of some kind. But we soon realized that the majority of the 300 plus passengers on this odyssey with us to Moscow, were Orthodox Chasidic Jews. Literally, hundreds of them.
Them and their hats.
I imagined immediately that they had all come to New York on a hat buying trip. Why else would they not only have the hats on their heads, but also endless boxes of hats. They had so many hats, that the rest of us could barely find a place in the overhead bins. This was such an ordeal that we actually were delayed until every hat was rearranged a hundred times until it fit just right.
Some of you may have a hard time imagining the scene, but let me tell you it was surreal. None of these young men were over 25. All in black suits, white shirts, (black hats of course), perfectly curled long side burns (“or pais”) all talking in a mixture of Yiddish and Hebrew, pulling boxes and hand luggage in and out of every overhead bin, making deals in broken English with other passengers about rearranging their items so that there would be room for one more hat. Some of them were standing on seats peering into bins to find one more spot.
I am sure you have all been on an organized bus trip. Maybe with a sports team or your youth group, cub scouts — you get the picture. Well this flight was kind of like that. No sooner were we finally settled and off the ground, but these guys were in the aisles, hats coming in and out of bins, on and off their heads, non stop talking and moving around the plane visiting, passing prayer books and glasses of water.
Now we Jews do not pray as much as Muslims, but on an overseas flight there is more than one opportunity to do so, and let me tell you we had several minions going on. But which way is east? And what time is it anyway? Many false starts, and rearranging of hats. More than once there was an announcement from the pilot or the stewardesses, about no loitering in large groups in the aisles, but between the thick Russian accent over the PA system and the din of Yiddish in the aisles, it was a lost cause.
Then there was meal service. Kosher meals outnumbered regular ones, and the staff, were working overtime carrying all the special meals by hand to most of the passengers while the rest of us waited patiently for the regular service. When the meals finally arrived they were surprisingly good!
Nine hours later, all of us, and all of the hats deplaned in an ultramodern Moscow Airport, safe and sound. Two hours later, we boarded a slightly smaller plane to Tel Aviv, with an even greater ratio of hats to storage bins! Oy!
Transaero, and our flight to Tel Aviv via Moscow was an experience we will not soon forget. As Airlines go, it was a very comfortable flight with courteous staff, and generous legroom. The free entertainment all around us made for memorable experience, and most importantly, a great story!
We arrived in Tel Aviv around 3:00 pm and by 5:00 pm we were on our way North to Kibbutz Eilon, where a large group of our friends were gathering. We hadn’t slept by that point for more than 24 hours, but were energized immediately when we were reunited with some people we had not seen in over 20 years.
It just doesn’t get any better than this. What a great start to the next leg of the journey!