Kat Healy didn’t think her act of kindness of behalf of a group of stranded travelers last weekend was that big a deal.
“Honestly, my mom and I did not think it was a story,” she said.
A lot of other people apparently did. The tale of their efforts to provide kosher food for passengers on an El Al Airlines flight out of Israel that made an unplanned stop at Billings Logan International Airport on Sunday was reported by the Billings Gazette and then picked up by newspapers and websites around the world.
Healy wrote on her Facebook page Tuesday: “Quick thank you to everyone for the 15 minutes of fame—the story made international news(!). I’ve received heartwarming messages from people I know and also notes from people from as far away as Jerusalem and Canada. It makes the world seem like a much smaller place.”
She was surprised that strangers found her on Facebook at all, since she was identified as Kat Healy in news reports but goes by Kathleen on Facebook.
But find her they did, including a man named Sean Berry, who wrote: “Your story is going viral. I’m just a random guy from Canada. At a time of so much bad news, your thoughtfulness actually brought me to tears.”
The El Al flight was bound for Los Angeles and made the stop in Billings when the pilot notified the airport tower that a warning light indicated a fire in one engine. The 279 passengers flew on to L.A. on a replacement plane Sunday evening, after a 12½-hour layover. The original plane, after some repairs and an inspection, left Monday evening with captain and crew.
When the plane landed early Sunday morning, the passengers, many of them Orthodox Jews who need to keep kosher, weren’t allowed to move around the terminal. Though it’s called an “international” airport, Billings Logan has no customs officials able to clear international travelers.
Gazette photographer Larry Mayer, who was covering the emergency landing, tried calling Donna Healy, a former Gazette reporter and a member of Congregation Beth Aaron. When she was unavailable, he called Donna’s daughter, Kat.
Kat soon reached her mother, who had her doubts at first.
“I was the skeptic who said, ‘They’ll never let us through the TSA with food,’” Donna said, referring to the Transportation Safety Administration.
But after deciding to give it a try, the Healys swung into action. Donna went to Sam’s Club and Kat to Albertsons in search of kosher food, which Beth Aaron was going to pay for. It wasn’t easy, but they found what they needed, including hummus, fruit, yogurt and kosher breakfast cereal, along with some diapers. Kat and a friend, Victor Sargent, then delivered the supplies to the airport.
The thanks and enthusiasm they received at the airport terminal was one thing. Then came the international news stories and the messages from strangers. Kat said they were amused by some of the stories.
A story on israelnationalnews.com referred to Billings Logan as “the largest airport in the 7th-least populous state in the United States.”
Its story went on: “most of the passengers eat only Kosher food, which, as Montana Television Network (MTN) dryly reported, is not ‘readily available’ in Billings. This is not surprising, as there are only 850 Jews in the entire state—0.1% of the population, less than 1/20th of the proportion in the U.S. as a whole.”
A story posted on a site called Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers was headlined, “OMG! Jews in Montana,” and a story on a foodie website carried this headline: “A Jewish Mom Fed an Entire Plane of Passengers in Montana.”
Several stories published around the world made pointed references to the lack of customs and border agents at the airport, despite the “international” in its name.
(Your Last Best News correspondent, when he worked for the Gazette, reported on June 15, 2002, that the U.S. Customs Service stopped doing inspections in Billings after the 9/11 terror attacks. Because of those attacks, the service demanded much more elaborate facilities, which the airport decided it could not afford. A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said there was no requirement that airports using “international” in their names be equipped to handle international flights, so the old name stuck.)
Kat Healy said she also spoke with the flight captain at the airport. She told him she worked at the Yellowstone Art Museum and invited him to visit it, if he could. She gave him her business card, writing on the back that the captain and his crew would be let in for free.
As Donna Healy tells it, the captain responded, “in a really heavy accent, ‘You have an art museum in Billings, Montana?’” Kat said she also asked the captain whether he and his crew were confused by the “international” in the airport’s name.
Yes, he said, “it mistakes us, too.”
Kat visited Israel three years ago on what is known as a birthright trip. A well-endowed fund pays for Jews from around the world to visit Israel. All she paid for was her flight to New York. Kat said it was wonderful to hear so much Hebrew again, and to be around such grateful people.
The Facebook messages were icing on the cake. Tal Bendoli, writing from Rehovoth, Hamerkaz, Israel, said, “As a Jew and an Israeli, it’s nice to know that there are people like you and your family that went out of your way to help others in need.”
Avrum Friedmann, writing from Jerusalem, said simply, “You are wonderful!”