Dinner is up in the air
Updated: Jul 1, 2022
Join Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger and Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Chief Operating Officer of OU Kosher, as they discuss the kashrus ramifications of meals served on flights and whether the food in first-class and economy are always the same kashrus-wise.
Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger: One of our readers submitted an interesting question.
It is very common for people who travel by plane to order a kosher meal. When the meal comes to their seat, the packaging is imprinted with a kosher certification to indicate that the food is kosher. Does that designation also certify that the meal was prepared in a kosher way? Can one rely on the hechsher on the packaging to assume there are no kashrus problems and he may eat the meal?
Rabbi Moshe Elefant:
That is an important question that involves many aspects and layers.
For those, like me, who travel economy class, there is not much room for a question because the meal arrives double-wrapped. It was packaged this way, warmed up on the plane in the double-wrapping and served with only disposable plates and utensils. The only real problem a passenger would have, would be how to neatly open the packaging without making a mess. From a halachic perspective, however, everything is fantastic.
Some people, however, are lucky enough to travel business or first-class. In those sections of the plane, passengers are given much more sophisticated, high-end service. While the meal arrives on the plane double-wrapped, it may be served to them unwrapped, on real dishes and with real silverware. In addition to the problems of the unknown kashrus status of the dishes and utensils, this could create problems of “basar shenisalem min ha’ayin” because you don’t know what was done to the meat before it was served to you. Moreover, the oven it was warmed up in is not kosher. If the meal was not double-wrapped when it was put in the oven, its kashrus status is compromised.
In this regard, there is a big difference between El Al and other airlines.
Rabbi Hisiger: In what way is El Al different from other airlines?
Rabbi Elefant: On any airline, those who travel business or first-class are usually not served on disposable plates or with disposable silverware; however, on most airlines, the dishes and silverware used for the kosher meals are only used once for this purpose and subsequently are used for non-kosher meals. In other words, the kosher caterer is always given brand-new dishes to use for the kosher meals. This isn’t that big of an expense for the airline because they don’t have that many kosher-eating passengers and they are anyway constantly purchasing new dishes and silverware to replenish their stock; therefore, it isn’t too hard for them to give new dishes for kosher meals. El Al, on the other hand, has a much different situation because every meal on the plane is kosher and they reuse the same dishes and silverware.
For this reason, the O.U. only certifies the El Al commissaries that prepare the meals for flights out of New York and Los Angeles. We do not certify the dishes used in business and first-class on those flights because those dishes travel around the world with El Al and are used for food from commissaries around the world. We would only be comfortable certifying food served on those dishes if we would be certifying all of the kitchens that food is made in – and we do not certify all of those kitchens. We, therefore, cannot take responsibility for that service. If someone wants to be confident about the kashrus of the meal while traveling with El Al on business or first-class, he would have to order the Mehadrin meal because we do take responsibility for those meals – not just for the food but for the service as well.
Rabbi Hisiger: How are you able to take responsibility for the El Al Mehadrin meals?
Rabbi Elefant: The Mehadrin meals are always double-wrapped. They also are served either on disposable dishes or on new non-disposable dishes, which are only used one for Mehadrin meals.
Travelers also have to keep in mind that although the meals they get on El Al planes from the U.S. to Israel are always glatt, the meal you get on flights from to Israel to the U.S. are not necessarily glatt. Many times, I have seen people who are the type who want to only eat glatt kosher eating the meals on the flights from Israel because they assume that it must be glatt because it is produced in Israel. That is not always true. Furthermore, the fruits and vegetables are not necessarily on the standard everyone would want in regards to mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz.
I can describe one final potential issue with El Al’s business or first class with a story: I was in Eretz Yisroel and I went to daven at the Kosel. While I was there, a former talmid of mine came over and he looked like he was very angry with me. When I asked him what’s wrong, he said that he had just arrived that morning and had traveled business class. On the plane, they served him wine, which he drank. He later discovered that the wine was not mevushal and it was served by either a non-Jewish or non-religious stewardess.
I’m not sure why he blamed me for that – but, I guess everything is the Mashgiach’s fault in the world of kashrus.
In any event, people have to keep in mind that even on El Al, there might be an issue of stam yainam. Everyone is aware that the wine may be an issue on non-Jewish airlines, but people also have to be aware that they have to be careful about this on El Al as well.
Rabbi Hisiger: Rabbi Elefant, thank you for clarifying these important issues and thank you for all you’ve done in the world of kashrus.
The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the presenters & authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of other halachic opinions or the entities they represent. The mission of the Kashrus Awareness Project is to inform and educate the kosher consumer to know what to look out for and what to inquire about. The Kashrus Awareness Campaign receives guidance from AKO, an umbrella association of kashrus organizations. For all questions you have regarding halacha, please consult with your own morei derech. We recommend our readers to double check and seek out the latest information available.