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Ron Radosh

The Case for a Boycott of Delta Airlines (UPDATED)

June 24th, 2011 - 8:40 am

A day ago, after a story in USA Today that has since been taken off its website, the Jewish community in the United States was enraged to evidently learn that Delta Airlines, which made Saudi Arabian Airlines one of its partner airlines, would not let Jewish passengers fly on Delta to Saudi Arabia.

As the newspaper noted, Delta immediately offered its own explanation written by Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter. His statement proclaimed that “Delta does not discriminate,” but that questions had been raised “about whether Saudi Arabian Airlines’ membership in SkyTeam means Delta is adopting any type of policies that could present barriers to travel for some passengers, including Jewish customers.” Banstetter then noted that all restrictions to admission to any country are set by that country’s authorities, not by any airline, and that they apply to anyone entering the country in question, regardless of how they come. Any airline, he noted, has to comply by law with the constraints imposed upon it by a country, including Saudi Arabia.

Religion News Service noted that “Saudi Arabia bans anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport from entering the country, even in transit. Many Jews believe the kingdom has also withheld visas from travelers with Jewish-sounding names.” The USA Today story notes that one rabbi informed them that many Jewish professionals engaged in business with the Saudis do go there regularly. (This is certainly true. I myself know many Jewish journalists and writers who have gone to Saudi Arabia on trips approved by the Saudi regime.)

Is Delta therefore off the hook? Not according to Rabbi Jason Miller, who aptly points out that the real issue is that Delta has added Saudi Arabian Airlines to its Sky Team Alliance of partner airlines — a step that obviously it did not have to take. This action means, in effect, that Jews who seek to fly there will in fact be taken off the plane. Delta says that if it did bring someone with an Israeli stamp in his or her passport or a Jewish American to Saudi Arabia on one of its flights, it could be fined a stiff penalty.

As Rabbi Miller correctly writes:

The issue here is one of principle. Delta isn’t being forced to include Saudi Arabian Airlines into its Sky Team Alliance. In fact, Delta could stand on principle and refuse to include Saudi Arabian Airlines based on its discriminatory policy. No, it’s not Delta’s fault that the Saudi government is anti-Semitic, but it doesn’t have to go along with it. It’s as if the Saudis are telling Delta that when it comes to Jewish passengers it’s name should become an acronym: “Don’t Even Let Them Aboard.”

All airlines tell passengers when they depart: “You have a choice, and we thank you for flying” United, or American, or Delta. In some major cities that are hubs, like Atlanta or now evidently Michigan, it’s hard not to get a flight other than Delta. So, as long as Delta allows an airline into its partnership alliance that does discriminate — even though Delta itself does not — I would suggest an appropriate measure.

Until Delta drops Saudi Arabian Airlines from its roster of partners, let’s circulate a pledge that we will not fly Delta and will always seek other airlines first before going on Delta. And for those who have Delta cards for point accumulation, a nice letter to their management informing them of this would create a great deal of pressure for them to drop Saudi Arabian Airlines as a partner.

Update: 2:30 pm est

Our friends at National Review Online have received a further clarification, that you can read about here. They report that many other airlines have codeshare arrangements with Saudi Arabian Airlines. Moreover, Delta has now responded that it has only what it calls “a standard industry interline agreement,” which means that passengers can book tickets on multiple carriers. It is evidently similar to the arrangement of Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and United, all of which have partners that fly to Saudi Arabia.

So, a boycott of Delta will not do the job. Delta got the bad publicity, but clearly, most of our major airlines have the same policy and alliances with the Saudi airline as some form of partner. Perhaps all of our airlines should reevaluate any kind of such alliance. Hasn’t the coddling of the Saudis gone on far too long?

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