El Al started it all, but as usual the Christian world follows suit...
POPE GIVES BLESSING TO HOLY PLANES
ROME, Italy (AP) -- A Vatican-backed charter airline service made its inaugural flight Monday, aiming to carry pilgrims to such Catholic shrines as Lourdes, Fatima, Santiago de Compostela and the Holy Land.
The flights, scheduled to start regular service next year, are tailored to the pilgrims' needs, with inscriptions such as "I search for Your face, Lord," decorating the seats, and religious videos shown on board.
"We want to create the conditions to enable pilgrims to live their pilgrimage starting at their city's airport and even before they arrive at their destinations," said the Rev. Caesar Atuire, CEO for the "Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi," an outfit that organizes pilgrimages for the Diocese of Rome.
"That's why we created this initiative, with a dedicated aircraft, trained staff, and messages (on board) to help people live a better experience," he told reporters at a presentation ahead of the inaugural flight, which carried VIPs and church officials to Lourdes.
The five-year agreement between Mistral Air, a small airline owned by the private Italian post office, and the "Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi," offers flights leaving from seven Italian airports, including Rome and Verona, with a Boeing 737-300.
Officials expect the deal will bring an estimated 150,000 passengers a year to destinations including Fatima, Portugal; Lourdes, France; Santiago de Compostela, Spain; the Holy Land; Czestochowa, Poland; and Sinai, Egypt.
Details on schedules and fares are still being discussed. However, Atuire said the airline is hoping to offer pilgrims competitive prices.
Rome Cardinal Camillo Ruini praised the initiative.
"The way to make pilgrimages can change over time but their deepest meaning remains the same: To look for a deeper contact with God," he told reporters before boarding the inaugural flight.
The Vatican does not have an airline or its own airport, and the pope regularly takes special flights with commercial carriers for his trips around the globe.