Having recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to Israel, I am looking forward to sharing many of my adventures with you over the next few weeks. Find all of my Israel reflections here. LMH

I'm a frequent flyer these days, so you won't typically find me getting too excited or worked up about an airline flight. But any description of my recent journey to the Holy Land needs to begin with a nod of thanks to El Al Airlines, who made the "getting there" part of my recent pilgrimage a wonderful experience.

Even before departing for Israel from New York, I had a hint of the high level of service I would experience when my itinerary had me waiting in JFK airport for several hours prior to departure. Thankfully, I had access to El Al's King David Lounge. The free wifi, comfortable atmosphere, amazing food and hospitable staff gave me a sneak peek into the airlines commitment to customer service.

When you travel to Israel, be certain to allow extra time for the thorough security and screening procedures that ensure passenger safety. I had a five hour layover at JFK, so I spent a few hours in the lounge, then processed through an expedited check-in (I had used the early check in process at home to select my seat) and returned to the lounge to meet my fellow travelers from the Catholic Press Association. Our group of eleven was greeted warmly by airline staff and before we knew it, it was time to board our plane.

Traveling from New York to Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport is a major journey, so be sure to carefully select your seating options. Our flight departed after midnight, and I knew I wanted to sleep on the plane so I chose a window seat so that I would be able to sleep during most of the ten hour flight. My seat mates were a wonderful couple who had met in the United States and moved to Israel to start a family, so they gave me a fantastic overview of some of the highlights I'd be seeing during the early hours of the flight. I ordered special meals on the plane, which was no problem for the El Al staff who routinely offers a wide variety of culinary options from a noted chef. As for entertainment, each seat is equipped with a personalized media system with a broad variety of programming. One major difference I noted both going to and coming home from Israel was the festive atmosphere in flight -- unlike most American red-eye flights I've experienced, this one was far from the sleepy, subdued environment I'm used to. I had no problem sleeping, but many of my fellow passengers not only stayed up, but also actively chatted and visited with one another. While the seat belt sign was not illuminated, many left their seats to visit or stand in open areas of the plane, which is actually a great idea when you're going to be flying for such a long time. At one point, I woke up and saw several of the religiously observant passengers donning prayer garb and spending time in quiet prayer -- what a wonderful introduction to a land where days are governed by spiritual rituals.

For those who will be flying El Al to Israel, the El Al website offers some very helpful recommendations to keep you safe and comfortable en route.  These include the recommendation that travelers do frequent leg exercises while in flight to avoid what my fellow pilgrims and I referred to as "elephant legs". Compression socks are a good idea for those concerned about circulation issues. While I experienced swelling in my legs going both to and from Israel, there was no associated pain and the swelling was completely gone within a day of flying both directions.

I want to publicly thank El Al airlines and their tremendous staff for making my journey to and from Israel such a wonderful experience. They set the tone for several days of hospitality and new friendship -- I'd highly recommend El Al for anyone flying from the United States to Israel.

Stay tuned for additional updates on my recent trip to Israel and find archived features on this trip here.

Copyright 2012 Lisa M. Hendey