The Vatican began flying charter flights for Catholic pilgrims recently, to holy places like Lourdes in France, Santiago de Compostela in Spain and Mount Sinai in Egypt. The planes bear the Vatican’s traditional yellow-and-white color palette and the seat backs bear the phrase, “I’m searching for your face, Lord.” Personally, I think, “On a Wing and a Prayer” would have been more fun, but the Vatican isn’t generally known for their sense of humor.
At any rate, the new Vatican airline said its goals were to provide safe service and low prices so that pilgrims could visit Catholic holy sites without being rich. In addition to the plane’s decor, religious films will also be shown during flight and religious messages broadcast over the plane’s loudspeakers. The airline venture is a partnership between ORP, the Vatican arm which organizes pilgrimages, and Mistral Air, a small Italian airline.
Predictably, low-cost airline giant Ryanair wasn’t happy about this new inexpensive competition, especially as some of the routes on the Vatican network are already served by Ryanair. They released a statement which said, “Ryanair already performs miracles that even the Pope’s boss can’t rival, by delivering pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela for the heavenly price of 10 euros.” Well, you can’t argue that Ryanair’s got a sense of humor, now, can you?
Vatican air has already hit one snag, however, involving airline security measures. The airline’s maiden voyage was from Rome to Lourdes, where holy water is the must-have item. It doesn’t come cheap, either – one website reportedly sells a two-liter bottle of the stuff for $135. So when pilgrims tried to board the Vatican flight for their trip back to Rome, they were shocked to find out they couldn’t bring the holy water on the plane. Turns out there’s an EU rule that does not allow for more than 100 mL of liquid in any carry-on bag. Security officers at the airport in France were taking the holy water from passengers, but one pilgrim didn’t want to hand over the precious cargo. He drank it instead.
Back on board the plane, distraught passengers might have been somewhat comforted by the bottles of holy water placed on each seat – but unless it was also from Lourdes, something tells me it wasn’t quite the same effect.
I can’t for the life of me find a website for the Vatican airline, only for Mistral Air. Mistral is owned by the Italian postal service, so the Vatican plane carries mail at night and pilgrims during the day, but even the Mistral site is lacking in information about the Vatican air service. It seems to me that if you’re in Rome and looking for a reasonably-priced flight to any one of the destinations served by Vatican air, you should be able to do that – whether you’re a pilgrim or not – but I can’t confirm that as yet. If anyone knows where the Vatican’s airline website is hiding – or even has any more information about whether average heathens can get on the plane – I’d love to know.
Photo by: Aero Icarus