Outrage Over Delta Saudi 'No Jews' Flights
The two carriers became partners in January, when the government-owned Saudi airline joined SkyTeam, the global alliance that includes Delta and more than a dozen other companies. But the story broke this week on a right-wing blog and has spread to other, more mainstream publications, igniting a controversy and putting Delta officials on the defensive.
Although Jews have traveled to Saudi Arabia for business, anecdotal evidence suggests that the kingdom has withheld visas from travelers with Jewish-sounding names. The country also bans anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport and, in accordance with strict Islamic law, requires women entering the kingdom to be dressed modestly. In addition, say critics of the partnerships, religious articles unrelated to Islam are banned from Saudi Arabia.
For Delta’s part, a spokesman for the airline said the carrier doesn’t discriminate, nor does it condone discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, nationality, religion or gender. At the same time, international airlines “are required to comply with all applicable laws governing entry into every country” they serve, according to the spokesman, Trebor Banstetter. He also noted that those requirements are dictated by the country’s government, not by the airlines, saying, in effect, that such matters are beyond Delta’s control.
But Jeffrey Lovitky, a Washington attorney who has contacted Delta officials and board members to protest the agreement, told The Jewish Week Thursday that their decision to form an alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines was “purely voluntary” and something they could control.
A flight to Saudi Arabia “is essentially a Jew-free flight,” Lovitky said, adding that his assertion is “common knowledge” among professionals in the travel industry. “No individual can admit to being Jewish and still be permitted on that flight.” It’s inconceivable that Delta wasn’t aware of that discrimination, he said, and it’s even more astounding that the company’s officials “thought it prudent to enter an alliance with a carrier that practices such policies.”
Questions remain about what the alliance would entail. Lovitky, for instance, said that such partnerships involve “co-shared” flights, in which each flight would carry a Delta number and a number from the other airline, and the pooling of certain services, including reservations. Defenders of Delta, however, say the airline won’t be sharing flights with Saudi Arabian Airlines or operating flights to or from the kingdom.
Neither Delta nor any other American carrier currently has flights to Saudi Arabia, although United, American and Continental are all parts of alliances with European carriers, such as British Airways and Lufthansa, that do. Noting that, some people have said that singling out Delta is unfair.
But Lovitky differs, saying that “part of the problem” is the Saudi airline itself. British Airways and Lufthansa “don’t have discriminatory hiring practices,” he added, but he’s sure that the Saudi carrier wouldn’t hire Jewish crew members.
- - -
If the U.S. bans discriminatory practices, should an American company be allowed to partner with one that actively 'discriminates'? What do you think?