Airline: No prayer card for you

A story from the Northwest today reminded me of the show Mad Men, where you might imagine executives from the show’s advertising agency coming up with the perfect perk for airline passengers in the 1960s. You could almost see Don Draper talking about why offering prayer cards for passengers offers a sense of nostalgia, tapping into a deeper bond with a product.

Anyway, here’s the 2012 story from the Associated Press:

Alaska Airlines is ending decades of giving passengers prayer cards with their meals, saying Wednesday the decision was made out of respect for all passengers.

Airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said the airline heard from customers who preferred not to mix religion with transportation. The decision reflects respect for the diverse religious beliefs and cultural attitudes of Alaska Airlines’ customers and employees, the company said in announcing the change.

My immediate reaction was “What? A company would still do this?” Reuters notes how many of the Facebook commentators appear to be upset, though you might expect the people who are upset over change would take the time to comment. I’m somewhat curious if leaders in the airline had religious ties 30 years ago, but it looks like it was simply a marketing technique. The Seattle Times offers this little history detail:

Many people assumed the idea came from former CEO Bruce Kennedy, who did missionary work after leaving Alaska Airlines, but it was actually a marketing executive who brought the idea over from Continental Airlines.

The piece leads with a somewhat humorous story of how an annoyed businessman would recite the prayers out loud–until after 9/11, that is. I also thought these added details were helpful.

Only first-class passengers have received the cards since 2006, when Alaska stopped providing meals on trays to customers in coach.

Even now, the cards appear only on flights longer than four hours, when they can be presented on a meal tray as they always have been, said spokeswoman Bobbie Egan.

The decision was made by top Alaska officials last fall and is not related to a frequent-flier partnership announced last week with the Dubai-based airline Emirates, she said.

Interesting timing, nonetheless. Businesses that feature religious text include Forever 21 and In-N-Out Burgers that print John 3:16 on their bags and cups (you thought Tim Tebow started it?). Still, I’m guessing fewer business offer such explicit religious messages anymore.

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  • Jerry

    Well, knock me over with a feather. I had never heard of prayer cards before and thus had no idea that they used to be given to airline passengers. And obviously I’ve not eaten at In-N-Out Burgers etc. The only explicit religious messages I was aware of was Bibles in motel rooms although it’s possible I did not notice a few such in the past.

  • http://www.magdalenesegg.blogspot.com Rev. Michael Church

    My experience has been just like Jerry’s — I’ve never seen prayer cards offered anywhere except a church or funeral home. Comes from living in the Northeast, I suppose.

    This raises the question of Sarah’s “anymore,” and a series of possible questions for a journalist to ask in a story like this. Is the practice common in other parts of the country? If so, when did it begin — maybe the 1920s or the 1980s, either of which might open a window into changing culture? Are there any comparable practices owned by Jews or Muslims?

  • http://www.magdalenesegg.blogspot.com Rev. Michael Church

    Correction: “in businesses owned by Jews or Muslims”

  • sari

    Two businesses come to mind: Chik Fila A and Hobby Lobby. Both are closed on Sunday. Chik Fil A has toned down the religious message, but years ago, it was present on every table. The restaurants remain closed on Sunday, but the current website distills the CEO/founder’s decision to “practical and religious” considerations. He and his family are heavily involved in philanthropy.

    Hobby Lobby’s owner/founder is a little more explicit and takes out full page ads in major newspapers at Christmas and Easter to declare the Christian message. The stores are huge, with an enormous selection of craft items, but they also contain a lot of the kind of Christian-themed merchandise found in Christian bookstores. From the Statement of Purpose on the company website: “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.” Also on the website, a heading for mission projects, which states “Hobby Lobby Partners with organizations working to share the Good News of Jesus C… to all the world.”

    I have never seen an equivalent in a Jewish owned business, except for a picture of the Ten Commandments captioned “Take Two Tablets daily”, but that was in Israel and probably doesn’t count. OTOH, we are not enjoined to proselytize people of other faiths. What’s more typical are (sometimes rows of) charity boxes set out by the register; the distribution says a lot about the owner’s religious orientation.

  • Stan

    Chik Fil A has toned down the religious message, but years ago, it was present on every table. The restaurants remain closed on Sunday, but the current website distills the CEO/founder’s decision to “practical and religious” considerations. He and his family are heavily involved in philanthropy.

    ChikFilA’s owners are heavily involved in politically-active groups that support right-wing causes, especially opposition to marriage equality. I would not describe that as “philanthropy.”

    I don’t quite understand the purpose of this post. Are you criticizing the journalism here?

  • sari

    My post was a comment on the last line of the blogpost: “Still, I’m guessing fewer business offer such explicit religious messages anymore.” and to the subsequent responses.

    Chik Fil A once placed explicit messages on each and every table. Now they don’t. And they have toned down the religious message and distilled it to “religious” (CFA website) or “biblical” (Truett Cathy’s website) reasons. No witnessing, yet the company still requires all franchises to close on Sunday.

    Whatever you think of Cathy’s beliefs, philanthropy is philanthropy. He is fostering and educating children who’d otherwise fall by the wayside. That he doesn’t support your cause doesn’t negate that.

  • Dave

    I echo Stan’s query. Is this an example of the press getting it right, or is there some serious omission here?

  • Stan

    Sari, when I wrote “I don’t quite understand the purpose of this post. Are you criticizing the journalism here?,” I was addressing Sarah Pulliam Bailey, not you. Sorry for the confusion.

    I don’t understand what this story has to do with journalism. (I also do not consider most of the Cathy’s tax-exempt contributions to political organizations “philanthropic” in any meaningful sense of the term. Those contributions have nothing to do with fostering or educating children.)

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    I think the story should have more on what “prayer cards” are (and why passengers need cards to pray.)
    The story seems to imply that they are cards with Bible verses. In that case, it is easy to see why Moslems or Hindus or whatever, not to mention atheists, would dislike the intrusion.

  • sari

    Will, my thoughts exactly. And why would first class merit special dispensations from the A-mighty?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Stan, I was contrasting the AP coverage with the Seattle Times coverage, offering some further thoughts if a reporter took the story further. I didn’t see anything too terrible in either story but found it potentially interesting.

  • Todd

    To clarify, the cards contained a Bible verse, always from the Psalms (or maybe Proverbs).

  • Maureen

    So if you donate to political groups as well as charities, you’re not philanthropic. Which means that if you donate only to political groups, you must be phobanthropic. So anybody who votes at all is a public enemy of mankind.

    Yeaaaah. I’m sure that’ll work.

  • Maureen

    Re: first class

    Because the annoying guy never went first class.


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