El Al Airlines

Clowns on a plane

Keeping young kids entertained on long plane rides is a challenge for many parents. Some airlines are getting creative about helping out.


Courtesy El Al Airlines.

El Al Airlines
, the national carrier of Israel, is famous for its stringent security measures.

That hasn’t kept clowns—loved by most children, yet terrifying to some adults—from boarding some planes.

As part of an expanded family entertainment program, the airline has added a clown to the cabin crew of select long-haul flights from Tel Aviv to New York and several other cities.

The complimentary program runs all summer and was featured on some El Al flights during the recent unrest that caused other airlines to temporarily halt flights to and from Israel.

On clown-enhanced flights, the fright-wigged temporary crew member roams the aisles, telling stories and riddles to children and handing out coloring books, crayons and games. The clown also selects 10 children on each flight to serve as clown assistants and, as a reward for completing a variety of assignments, those children get to visit the captain in the cockpit.

“The clowns and all the extra giveaway items are an additional expense for the airline,” said EL AL spokeswoman Sheryl Stein, “but it brings happiness to families during a busy travel season and we want the kids, who are our future customers, to remember El Al.”

Nannies, not clowns, help care for children year-round on some other airlines.

In 2003, Bahrain-based Gulf Air introduced a team of Sky Nannies to help with boarding and disembarkation and to “give parents that much needed break during a long flight and generally provide a watchful eye on the little ones.” The complimentary service was so successful that nannies now help out in the airline’s lounges as well.

SriLankan Airlines has a designated Child Care Stewardess on board many flights and, in September 2013, Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, introduced its own Flying Nanny service for long-haul flights. Each of the Etihad’s 500 Flying Nannies (identifiable by their orange aprons) is equipped with a goody bag of games and activities and has completed courses in child psychology and sociology.

“Airlines are also taking more initiatives to entertain kids with one-off surprise in-flight events that see cabin crew painting the faces of young passengers, offering a tour of the aircraft or hosting an in-flight drawing competition where kids proudly parade the aisle showing their creations to fellow passengers,” said Raymond Kollau of airlinetrends.com.

These kind of events not only keep kids busy, but “create a cozy atmosphere,” said Kollau, so both parents and fellow passengers are happy.

While surely helpful for some travelers, in-flight clowns and nannies don’t interest Karim Kassam, a clean-energy executive based in Vancouver, British Columbia, who travels often with his 8-year-old son.

“As a parent it’s my job to keep my son entertained when we travel,” said Kassam. “If he’s not sleeping, reading, watching TV or on his iPad, we play games or do the unimaginable—talk.”

To assist travelers who would rather not be seated near children, several airlines offer—or are considering offering—special sections.

Virgin Atlantic President Richard Branson has floated the idea of creating a separate, supervised kid-only section on his company’s airplanes.

Singapore Airline’s budget carrier, Scoot, currently offers a “ScootinSilence” section on its Boeing 777s where children age 12 and under are not allowed. Air Asia X has a quite zone only open to passengers age 12 and older. And the upper decks of Malaysia Airline’s Airbus A380s are designated as kid-free.

(My story about clowns on a plane first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior.)

El AL Airlines is serving Hanukah latkes

The Jewish holiday of Hanukah starts this Friday, December 11 and EL AL, Israel’s national airline, will be serving passengers special holiday treats.

El Al Hanukah

The airline expects to use 1,375 potatoes, 6,600 ounces of raspberry jam, and 68 cups of cinnamon to make the traditional jelly donuts (sufganiot ) and potato pancakes (latkes) that will be served on flights between New York (JFK and Newark) and Israel.  These treats will also be served in the airline’s premium class airport lounges throughout the world.

Airplane food: apples, honey, & honeycake on El Al

To celebrate Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), which begins at sundown on Friday,  El Al Airlines is serving apples and honey – a New Year’s Tradition – and honey cake to travelers departing JFK and Newark airports in the U.S. and Ben Gurion Airport in Israel.

The treats will be served the day before the holiday and the day after; the airline does not fly on Rosh Hashanah (or on Yom Kippur).

Honey Cake Jpeg

Chef Steven Weintraub, executive chef of Borenstein Caterers, which provides EL AL’s meals, was kind enough to share his honey cake recipe.


1 cup of honey

½ cup of sugar

4 whole eggs

1 cup of coffee, black and room temperature

¾ cup of vegetable oil

1 fresh orange, grated fine (include juice pulp and skin)

4 – 4 ½ cups of flour (adjust flour amount to ensure mixture is moderately loose)

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon of baking soda

A pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)

1 cup of raisins


Mix honey, sugar, eggs, coffee, oil and orange thoroughly.  In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Slowly add dry mixture into liquid mixture.  Blend well.  Fold in raisins.  Pour mixture into a 9 x 13 greased baking pan or into a 36 muffin tin.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour.  After 45 minutes of cooking, check periodically.  Let cool on a wire rack.

This recipe serves 20.

If you want to make enough for an entire plane – get out your calculator.  It takes 75 pounds of honey cake to feed a 777 and 115 pounds of honey cake to feed a 744.