Wing and a prayer

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Niche marketing in the travel industry, up to now primarily associated with cutting-edge-type agents and operators, is about to spread to the airline industry.

Airbus, the European consortium currently competing with Boeing to supply El Al Israel Airlines with new planes, has come up with what it hopes is the ultimate custom-design feature: on-board synagogues.

El Al officials say they are intrigued, if not yet sold on the sky-temples, which would seat about a dozen people and would feature a revolving holy ark designed with a built-in compass for worshippers who wish to face Jerusalem throughout their flight.

In the "70s, those 747s with the upstairs piano lounges were the last word in in-flight luxury. As we approach the millennium, on-board houses of worship are making an appearance. It's tempting to interpret this as a high-tech manifestation of the importance of religion in daily life, a logical next step following the big group-hug we're giving to spirituality of late, and maybe it is.

But it's also feasible that the decision to put synagogues in the sky is simply a cunning marketing ploy that uses faith to sell airplanes. The truth is it doesn't really matter. All that counts is whether or not the idea flies. That's business.

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