Kentucky Flyin’ Tefillin
The plane, a 50-seat regional aircraft that was less than a third full when it took off from La Guardia Airport, had been climbing through the early-morning sky for about 25 minutes. A 17-year-old passenger in a whitish sweater took out something he had carried onboard, and strapped it onto his wrist and his head.
To some people in New York, that is a relatively common sight: an observant Jew beginning the ritual of morning prayer. But to at least one person on US Airways Express Flight 3079 on Thursday — the flight attendant — it looked ominous, as if the young man were wrapping himself in cables or wires. [...]
The pilot decided to divert the Kentucky-bound plane to Philadelphia. In less than 30 minutes it was on the ground, police officers were swarming through the passenger cabin, and the Transportation Security Administration was using terms like “disruptive passenger” and “suspicious passenger” to describe the boy.
An hour or so after that, Lt. Frank Vanore, a spokesman for the Philadelphia police, had another explanation.
“It was unfamiliarity that caused this,” he said.
He said the flight crew had never seen tefillin, small leather boxes attached to leather straps that observant Jews wear during morning prayers. The flight crew “didn’t understand what it was,” he said, and the pilot “erred on the side of caution and decided to radio that in and to divert the flight.”