“Delta gets you there,” but not necessarily if you are Jewish. The airline’s slogan does not seem to completely apply now that it has entered a code-sharing partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines, the national carrier of Saudi Arabia, set to begin in 2012.
Soon after an article by Michele Chabin for Religion News Service titled, “U.S. Jews Not Able To Fly On Delta Flights to Saudi Arabia” showed up yesterday on the websites of USA Today and The Huffington Post, a frenzy of commentary ensued.
According to Chabin, citizens of almost all countries are required to obtain a visa in order to visit or enter Saudi Arabia, which is governed by Islamic law. Israelis and travelers with Israeli visas or stamps in their passports are denied visas to Saudi Arabia. Chabin also reports that people with Jewish-sounding last names have also been denied visas.
Travelers to the kingdom must be sponsored and must uphold all Saudi laws, including women covering up and being met at the airport by a male chaperone. Also, individuals are forbidden from entering the country with any non-Islamic religious items such as a cross, a Bible, a priest’s collar or a kippah.
In response to reaction from the Jewish community to news of the partnership, Delta Spokesman Trebor Banstetter released a statement, which was published on USA Today’s Faith & Reason blog:
First and foremost, I think one of the most important things to mention here is that Delta does not discriminate nor do we condone discrimination against anyone in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender. That said, some have raised questions 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. For this particular concern, 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. We, like all international airlines, are required to comply with all applicable laws governing entry into every country we serve. You as passengers are responsible for obtaining the necessary travel documents, such as visas and certification of required vaccinations, and we’re responsible for making sure that you have the proper documentation before you board.
In other words, he’s saying that it’s Saudia Arabia (and its national airline) that’s doing the discriminating, not Delta Airlines. Nonetheless, many question Delta’s judgment in entering the deal with Saudi Arabian Airlines. Blogger Rabbi Jason Miller pointed out that it’s a matter of principle. If it is illegal for a U.S. company to discriminate, then why is Delta allying itself with one that does?
Delta can try to explain its decision, but for many Jewish Americans, the explanation just doesn’t fly.