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Sunday, June 26, 2011

US Senator wants to investigate Delta-Saudi Arabian Airways connection

US Senator Mark Kirk (R-Il) has demanded an investigation into Delta Airlines' new marketing deal with Saudi Arabian Airlines, pursuant to which Saudi Air has become a member of the Sky Miles program.
Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk wrote Federal Aviation Administration Administrator J. Randolph Babbit Friday and urged him to “determine whether Delta Airlines violated US law or regulation and to ensure no US citizen is denied their right to fly solely on the basis of their religion.”

Kirk was referring to news reports which alleged that as a result of Delta expanding its SkyTeam network of member airlines to include Saudi Arabian Airlines, on flights bound for Saudi Arabia Delta itself would comply with Saudi requirements regarding who can arrive in the country, which could lead to the exclusion of Jews. The SkyTeam expansion was announced in January and is set to begin in 2012.

The charge seems to rest on the need for US passengers to possess a visa to Saudi Arabia in order to board a flight destined to the Gulf state, and Saudi Arabia is widely believed to not grant visas to most Jews as well as people of any faith who have Israeli entry stamps in their passports.

It is common practice for airlines in the same alliance to codeshare on flights and allow customers to transfer frequent flier miles between companies, which critics of the move by Delta charge makes the American airline even more complicit in the Saudi carrier’s practices.

But Trebor Banstetter, a Delta spokesman, emailed The Jerusalem Post a statement saying that in the case of Saudi Arabian Airlines, “Delta does not operate service to Saudi Arabia and does not codeshare with any airline that serves that country. Delta does not intend to codeshare or share reciprocal benefits, such as frequent flier benefits.”

He continued, “Delta’s only agreement with Saudi Arabian Airlines is a standard industry interline agreement, which allows passengers to book tickets on multiple carriers, similar to the standard interline agreements American Airlines, US Airways and Alaska Airlines have with Saudi Arabian Airlines.”

Banstetter did not respond to requests seeking further clarification.
That's pretty similar to a comment that (purported) Delta employee Susan Elliott put on Lisa Graas' blog after Lisa picked up the story from me.

But those assertions have not done a whole lot to quell the outrage. On Friday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center attacked Delta (which also flies to Israel from New York - and in the summer from Atlanta) for allying itself with the Wahhabi Muslim kingdom.
“We call on Delta Airlines to end its partnership agreement with Saudi Arabian Airlines," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, Founder and Dean of the Center (pictured left). "Such an agreement de facto amounts to discrimination against Jews and Israelis." Hier said that the Center does not accept Delta’s position that it must comply with the applicable laws of every country and that this a matter to be taken up by the State Department. "This agreement violates all the principles for which the United States stands for," he added.

Rabbi Hier said that at a time where the entire world is focused on the Arab Spring, hoping that it will lead to full freedom and democratic rights, Delta is taking a step backwards by endorsing bigotry and anti-Semitism. He concluded: "You can’t partner with someone then claim, ‘you have nothing to do with it' Would the airline enter into an agreement that barred, blacks, women, or Catholics from flying?"
I saw a similar comment from Rabbi Shmuelly Boteach (sorry, I won't link that because it's behind a paywall) in which he compared Delta's action to an airline agreeing to codeshare with South African Airways during the apartheid era.

Here's Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy with a Muslim reaction to this story.

Let's go to the videotape.

The only one defending Delta that I've seen is a blog post in the Wall Street Journal, which says to blame the Saudis and not Delta.
Saudi Arabia requires a visa for most foreigners entering its country, and the kingdom denies visas to people who a stamp in their passport from Israel. (When applying for a visa, you send in your passport.) Many believe the strict Islamic nation routinely denies visas to people it believes are Jewish. The Saudi visa application asks you to state your religion.

Without a visa, no airline can board a passenger for a flight to that country. Anytime you fly internationally, your documents get checked by the airline before you board. If a visa is required and you don’t have one, the airline can’t fly you there only to have you sent back.

Delta is entering into a partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines through its SkyTeam Alliance, beginning next year. Delta planes don’t actually fly there, but Delta customers will be riding on Saudi Arabian through an interline agreement. (They already do that today through a standard interline agreement.) Delta says it won’t code-share with Saudi Arabian — place its flight code on Saudi flights– and won’t offer reciprical frequent flier benefits. Like any airline, Delta can’t board Saudi-bound passengers without a visa.

It would be the same on Lufthansa or British Airways or Air France flights to Riyadh, or for that matter on their U.S. code-sharing partners–United, US Airways or American. Without a visa, American won’t board you for a flight to London if your ticket connects you to Saudi Arabia. In terms of airline policy, there’s nothing new.
No, there is something new. No US carrier has ever allowed the Saudis (or the Syrians or the Iranians or any other Arab airline other than Jordan or possibly Egypt) into their frequent flier program. It's bad enough people still go to Saudi Arabia. There's no need to give their national airline more business because of it.

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At 7:12 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

So is Delta giving the Saudis (and who ELSE?!?) access to their passenger database, with requests for kosher meals or records of trips to Israel past a passport renewal process in it? So the Saudis will be able to set up and share, worldwide, a database of people they think are Jewish or are friendly to Jews..OMG. These people... Delta wake up!

At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to be insensitive to the plight of the Jewish people, but this isn't an isolated situation. There are 21 other countries that don't recognize Israel, several of whom have air service to the US (Kuwait on United Airlines for one), and others who have national airlines which either fly to the US (Pakistani Airways anyone?) or who have national airlines which are in an alliance with US airlines (Etihad, Emirates, Garuda Indonesia, just to name a few).

I'm not suggesting that the fight be given up, but let's at least put it in context and condemn other airlines which are engaging in similar practices.


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