U.S. Jews not able to fly on Delta flights to Saudi Arabia

June 24, 2011

JERUSALEM (RNS) Jews and Israelis, or passengers carrying any
non-Islamic article of faith, will not be able to fly code-share flights
from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia under Delta Air Line's new partnership
with Saudi Arabian Airlines that is set to begin in 2012.

Although Delta announced in January that the Saudi airline would
join its SkyTeam network next year, the implications of the deal only
came to light recently, according to people who have scrutinized the
details.

Saudi Arabia, which is governed by strict Islamic law, requires
citizens of almost every country to obtain a visa. People who wish to
enter the country must have a sponsor; women, who must be dressed
according to Saudi standards of modesty, must be met at the Saudi
airport by a man who will act as a chaperone.

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.

Religious items such as Bibles that are not related to Islam may be
confiscated at the airport.

Colby M. May, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and
Justice, a conservative legal group founded by religious broadcaster Pat
Robertson, said his office is trying to determine if the agreement runs
afoul of U.S. law.

"The very idea that there is a common carrier airline service that
would deny an American citizen in America access to their services
because they are Jewish or have religious items such as a yarmulke, a
cross or a priestly collar, is deeply disturbing," May said.

May said he is "trying to get answers" from Delta.

"They have not responded in a way that answers the question," he
said. "Hopefully they'll do so."

In a statement to Religion News Service on Thursday (June 23), Delta
said it "does not discriminate, nor do we condone discrimination against
any protected class of passenger in regards to age, race, nationality,
religion, or gender."

The airline, which did not deny the new policy, insisted that it has
no control over who may fly to Saudi Arabia.

"Delta must also comply with all applicable laws in every country it
serves," adding that passengers are responsible for obtaining the
necessary travel documents required for entry.

"If a passenger travels without proper documents, the passenger may
be denied entry into that country and our airline may be fined," the
statement said.

The Jan. 10 agreement allows Saudi Arabian Airlines to become a
member of SkyTeam in 2012 after "fulfilling all membership
requirements," according to a SkyTeam statement. The Saudi airline is
SkyTeam's first member from the Middle East.

The policy has deeply angered U.S. Jewish groups, especially since
Delta is an American carrier.

"Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, should be strongly condemned for its
despicable discrimination against Jews," said Kenneth Bandler, a
spokesman for the New York-based American Jewish Committee.

"For an American company, our nation's values should trump narrow
business interests. Delta should be the first to reject Saudi airlines
as a SkyTeam member."

Dan Diker, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, said he
hoped "Delta will not be complicit with what appears to be a
demonstrably anti-Semitic and racist policy by Saudi Arabian Airlines."