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The executives at Delta Airlines have apparently never heard the old joke about landing a plane in the Middle Eastern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is the one where the pilot announces, “Welcome to Saudi Arabia, please set your watches back a thousand years.” The backward Saudi kingdom will in fact gain a new business partner in Delta, which has dug its heels in on its decision to allow Saudi Arabian Airlines (SAA) to join its Sky Team Alliance, despite the fact that such a relationship may put the American carrier in a position of having to ban Jews or holders of Israeli passports from boarding flights in New York or Washington, D.C. bound for Jeddah.
Despite denials by Delta last Friday in a written statement explaining that the carrier “does not discriminate nor do we condone discrimination against any of our customers in regards to age, race, nationality, religion or gender,” the company is seemingly engaged in semantic hair-splitting. While saying that Delta neither operates directly in Saudi Arabia nor engages in “code-sharing” (one carrier markets service and places its passengers on another carrier’s flights) with airlines that serve that country, Delta’s agreement with SAA allows passengers to book tickets on multiple airlines. Furthermore, the American carrier admits that “it’s important to realize that visa requirements to enter any country are dictated by that nation’s government, not the airlines, and they apply to anyone entering the country regardless of whether it’s by plane, bus or train,” a Delta spokesman wrote on the company’s blog.
Which brings up the obvious question: why is Delta engaging in this agreement in the first place? Washington attorney Jeffrey Lovitky, who discovered the arrangement in the midst of making travel plans, wrote two letters to Delta CEO Richard Anderson, noting that an official website for the kingdom, the Supreme Commission for Tourism, said visas will not be issued to the following groups of people:
An Israeli passport holder or a passport that has an Israeli arrival/departure stamp; Those who don’t abide by the Saudi traditions concerning appearance and behaviors; Those under the influence of alcohol will not be permitted into the Kingdom; There are certain regulations for pilgrims and you should contact the consulate for more information; Jewish People.
Anderson didn’t reply to Lovitky, but airline customer care coordinator Kathy M. Johnston did. And once again, the hair-splitting was evident. While the aforementioned company non-discrimination policy was part of the response, Johnston conceded that the airline must “comply with all applicable laws in every country it serves,” and if the “government of Saudi Arabia engages in discriminatory practices… this is a matter which must be addressed with a local embassy as appropriate, or the U.S. State Department.” When Mr. Lovitky pressed the issue, he received a second response from Ms. Johnston that was virtually the same as the first, with the addition of “we respectfully consider this matter closed and we will not be responding to this matter again.”
Delta may consider the matter closed, but Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) does not. He has taken up the cause presented to Congress and the public by former congressman and radio talk show host Fred Grandy, who first sounded the alarm regarding “creeping Sharia.” Grandy’s wife, Catherine, was even more direct. “It looks like Delta will be the first Sharia-compliant airline in the United States,” she said. Thus, last Friday, Senator Kirk wrote a letter to Federal Aviation Administration Administrator J. Randolph Babbit, asking 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.”
As for Congress itself, the issue remains under the radar at this juncture. And a previous attempt to address Saudi Arabian anti-Semitism, known as the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act, part of which was aimed at halting “the issuance of visas to citizens of Saudi Arabia until the President certifies that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not discriminate in the issuance of visas on the basis of religious affiliation or heritage, and for other purposes,” never became law, despite being presented to two different sessions of Congress in 2007 and 2009.
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