Flying El Al to LA with Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriend

Thus when El Al offered me the opportunity to fly business class for a long weekend to Los Angeles to visit my parents, I felt quite fortunate.

By
October 10, 2010 04:30
El AL Plane (Illustratory)

EL AL Plane 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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John Fogerty’s lyrics resonate loudly with me. “Some folks are born silver spoon in hand. Lord, they don’t help themselves. It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no. It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one.”

While written in 1969 for his band, Credence Clearwater Revival, as a protest song against the Vietnam War, I always interpreted the title, “Fortunate Son,” to be my personal motto. Fortunate enough to be healthy with reasonably well behaved children, living in Israel has seemed to me the epitome of good fortune. The little woman in my house often opines on my good luck.

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Thus when El Al offered me the opportunity to fly business class for a long weekend to Los Angeles to visit my parents, I felt quite fortunate – again. El Al has been strongly promoting its nonstop flight to Los Angeles.

Though taking more than 15 hours, the mere chance to experience it in business class was an opportunity I would not turn down.

El Al, no longer a national carrier with state subsidies, and forced to compete vigorously with dozens of airlines flying the route, has now been able to finance new aircraft.

Deploying a Boeing 777 with seating for 332 passengers, including 39 seats in its business section, it also offers top of the line video on demand films.

With a 1:10 a.m. departure, I was able to complete a full business day, race home to scrounge up some dinner, throw a few items into a suitcase and saunter confidently into Ben-Gurion Airport.



Witnesses might attest that I strutted toward El Al’s business counter waving my business class ticket in the air.

Astute witnesses would also have noticed security guards waving me down, directing me to normal security check in procedures regardless of where I was going to sit on the plane. Properly mollified, I sheepishly continued toward the King David counter, received my boarding pass and slowly made my way into the heart of Ben-Gurion Airport.

Traipsing through passport control, blithely walking past all the duty free shops, I entered El Al’s King David Lounge. Designed for business, first class and elite frequent flier members, I passed inspection and was deemed worthy to enter the confines.

Though it is filled with comfortable seats, massage chairs, Internet access, it was the bountiful buffet that caught my eye. Never a great nosher at 12 a.m., the ability to feed my palate before I boarded was an idea my now growling stomach applauded. Several platefuls of salads, cheeses and breads made me weary but I persevered through desserts. At last my flight was announced, and I made my way to the departure gate along with my fellow passengers.

BOARDING THE plane, the airline attendant seemed to smile extra wide as she directed me to my business class seat not two rows from where we entered.

Sitting next to me was an attractive woman who several of the male passengers appeared to be ogling. Keep in mind, dear reader, that during the course of my normal business day I engage in conversations with dozens of people and e-mail easily more than 200. Thus the thought of flying 15 hours with nary a word uttered was as close to nirvana as I could imagine.

Knowing the inner sanctum of a plane is one of the last bastions of privacy, I was jolted when my phone began to ring. Quickly explaining that I was onboard a plane, the conversation was ended and I glanced over to my seatmate to express an apology. She wanly smiled and somewhere deep in my consciousness I realized this was the girlfriend of none other than Leonardo DiCaprio.

As the plane began taxiing down the runway, we were admonished to put our seats in an upright position. This concept, while as old as the history of air travel, has always rankled me. Putting one’s tray away makes sense; securing one’s carry-on goods is also advisable. But how does me sitting up in the most awkward position, designed to wreak havoc on my back, do anything to increase my personal safety? When I queried the flight attendant that this seemed superfluous, her stern rebuttal left me with no option but to comply.

Thus forced to sit erect, I began to play with the numerous controls and buttons scattered all over my seat. Fancy lights, seat controls rivalling those of the fanciest car; an inflight entertainment system with well over 200 choices left me bewildered. As we reached cruising altitude the tone of the chief steward welcoming us aboard, began to have its desired effect – drowsiness washed over me. Perusing a menu that rivalled a restaurant in a five-star hotel, I quickly decided to forgo food and elected to stretch my seat into a horizontal position.

Here I found that unlike, US Air, Continental or Air Canada to name a few airlines that fly to North America, El Al has yet to upgrade its seats to a 100 percent horizontal bed. As I mastered the control, my body slowly contorted itself in to a near flat experience. Popping ear plugs, putting on a face mask, all part of the goodies that were provided to us, I eschewed dinner, told my seat mate, “Sweet dreams” and entered seven hours of pure bliss.

WAKING UP somewhere over the Atlantic, I took in my environment and noted that the majority of my fellow travelers were still in a dream mode. I however had now decided to placate my hunger pangs and a quick visit to the galley resulted in a sandwich and salad being provided.

I then took advantage of enjoying a movie and innocently selected the latest version of Robin Hood. As the crisp picture washed over the personal video screen, I assuaged my guilt that stealing from the rich or accepting their gifts is not always acceptable. Calculating that El Al’s least expensive round trip business class ticket to Los Angeles is $4149, I mentally did some comparison shopping.

The North American airlines, Continental, Delta, US Air and Air Canada, all sell a ticket at $3800. European airlines offer comparable fares. With economy fares well under 50% of these prices, one is left with an undeniable impression. If you, or your company, or your government can afford it, it’s not a bad way to fly.

The rest of the flight proved uneventful, save for me assisting my quasi famous seatmate in filling out the customs form. We deplaned in Los Angeles where our luggage, previously tagged, was the first on the conveyor belt. Entering the smog filled skies of LA, seeking out a shuttle van, I could only glance upward and express my thanks for being such a fortunate son.

The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments e-mail him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il.

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