No Jews Allowed! Delta’s SkyTeam Alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines

October 29, 2011

Political Theory


In January 2011, Delta Northwest Airlines announced the Saudi Arabian Airlines would be added to its SkyTeam Alliance of partnering companies.  This alliance would incorporate and require Delta to ban Jews and holders of Israeli passports from boarding flights to Saudi Arabia. Though representatives from the Delta Airlines have made public statements issuing that they do not discriminate amongst different cultures and religions, they must comply with all applicable laws in each country that it serves.  Since the Saudi Arabian government prohibits the entrance of Jews, if Delta were to transport them via aircraft to the country, they would face hefty fines.

This is an issue based strictly on principle, as the Delta SkyTeam Alliance is not being forced into adding the Saudi Arabian Airlines to its partnership as a new business venture. Though the company might gain business from its new alliance, it will also predictably lose business in the United States, due to their new association with an anti-Semitic airline company.  Many Jews and non-Jews alike have been troubled by such a discriminatory policy of which Delta was forced to adopt when partnering up with the Arabian Airlines.

Though headlines have appeared to overdramatize this situation, the journalists have failed to dig deeper into the situation. Upon further investigation, one must understand that Saudi Arabia does issue visas to people of the Jewish faith.  It is also suggested, that travelers who hold Israeli stamps on their passports seek a duplicate passport without any Israeli stamps, so they can be admitted into the country without any evidence of their religion.  Saudi Arabia has held problems with Israel in the past, and never fully recognized Israel’s right to exist. Understandably said, this may explain why Saudi Arabia would not allow holders of an Israeli passport on planes into their country. Though this is the case, once again, it is the sheer principle of the matter that is troublesome.

It is easy to see how John Stuart Mill’s theories and thoughts on freedom of speech correlate directly to this international issue of concern.  Due to the Saudi Arabian airlines policy, the traveler’s freedom of religious expression has been hindered. Though it is not absolute that no Jews can fly on the air carrier, because of the duplicate passport scheme, the country’s policy diminishes any freedom of religion that their citizens and travelers alike might hold. Though Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, we as American should recognize how unjust their ruling is as it discriminates amongst religions and restricts citizens’ freedoms. We as Americans should be able to recognize how lucky we are, that American government is a democracy with various freedoms. Understandably, the Delta Airlines was fully aware of the situation and rules that Saudi Arabia abides by. However, it is not to be taken lightly as they have now associated themselves with a company that follows discriminatory procedures. Thus, the argument is based strictly off of principle-between what is right and what is wrong in the modern day society we live in.

In addition, John Locke discusses the ideas of religious tolerance. Here, his ideas are applicable to the situation at hand. While he argues religious tolerance, he also argues that the state should stay out of matters that deal with belief. He also views toleration as an illusion to a problem. While the Saudi Arabian government might not favor Jews or people holding Israeli passports, Locke would argue that they should still tolerate them, and allow them into their country. Locke believes that religious toleration is important, as it does not necessarily mean that you support or favor one religion over another. Tolerance is crucial in order to establish a civil society.

Also, issues regarding identity emerge here because a specific group of people have been singled out and prejudiced against. Though religion is not necessarily a contingent factor of birth, many choose to practice the religious beliefs of their parents, and heritage and culture is passed down throughout generations. A contingent factor of birth is the country where someone is born. Therefore, when discussing the principles regarding identity we must also realize that the group of Israeli passport holding citizens trying to travel into Saudi Arabia are being prejudiced against and are unfairly being discriminated.  It is not just individuals that are being treated in a discriminatory way, but rather a whole group of people from the same country and the same religious views. While their views are non-threatening, to the Saudi Arabian government, their views are not recognized and are not tolerated within their country.

Personally, this issue caused an uproar regarding peoples right to religious expression. We can understand that John Stuart Mill would argue that a majority of citizen’s freedom to religious expression is suppressed from the Saudi Arabian airlines policy. The right to religious expression is crucial into forming a sense of identity, developing culture, and creating a diverse country to either reside or visit. Who is to say that a public place should be kept private from people, solely based off of their religious beliefs? Mill would argue that though the government may have the ultimate authority and stronger opinion to decide what is best for the country, this is not an issue of personal safety. Banning Jewish people from Israel into entering Saudi Arabia will not make their country any more or less safe than it already is. Discrimination against one religious group eliminates their freedom of expression, completely. In the situation regarding Delta and the Saudi Arabian airlines, the traveling Jews freedom of religious expression was hindered, for no apparent reason other than Anti-Semitism. Additionally, Locke’s ideas regarding religious toleration can be applied here, as the Saudi Arabian government clearly does not wish to tolerate the Israeli passport holders and Jewish people. This situation could have been completely avoided had the government practiced religious toleration.  So, I proceed by asking your opinion, do you feel that this was a good or bad move on Delta’s part? What should be done in regards to this, if anything? Do Locke’s ideas regarding religious toleration seem to be applicable with this scenario? What else might Mill argue in regards to freedom of expression?

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About sbsmoler92692

University of Michigan Student

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7 Comments on “No Jews Allowed! Delta’s SkyTeam Alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines”

  1. srbarron Says:

    When my family heard this announcement, we immediately stopped booking Delta flights. How can an American airline all of a sudden make a deal with a Saudi Arabian airline that doesn’t practice the American rights? Although a private company, Delta should be forced to follow all Constitutional amendments and allow freedom of religion on all flights having any connection to them. I understand that Saudi Arabian Airlines is a company owned by a nondemocratic government and has the international right to do whatever they want with their airline, but by joining an American Sky Team partnership, they should be forced to follow the laws in America and not discriminate against Jews.

    Although our country has no right to control or even influence the Saudi Arabian government, for the most part, we have had an alliance together around the oil industry. In looking at the world through a Universalist perspective that we have primarily been function in with Saudi Arabia, we can agree that there should be universal rules that should be shared by everyone, and following the rules of the mother company (Delta) should take precedence as the universal rule.

    It interests me that Kathy Johnston, Customer Care coordinator, and the rest of the Delta hierarchy are turning a blind eye to this issue by failing to acknowledge and protest the idea that they are now discriminating against a minority that has routinely supported their airline. Although she admits that Delta itself does not practice hatred against passengers, she continues in her public announcement to agree to all laws in countries Delta serves in order to avoid paying fines. Could this issue have been negotiated before the partnership was made? Are personal freedoms not as important to Delta as economic prosperity? I think it will be very interesting to see Delta’s stock once Saudi Arabian Airlines officially joins Delta to see if the fines they are avoiding by following Saudi Arabia’s discrimination outweigh the money they may loose from Jewish and socially aware passengers.

    • marckarpinos31 Says:

      I agree with what srbarron said in the first paragraph. How can an American Airline view this as a productive or business savvy move as they clearly are going to alienate a major population of the American people. Are there that many people flying to Saudi Arabia that loss of potential Jewish customers is worth it? I have a hard time believing that that is the case and to me this just seems to be a dumb move by Delta.

      I disagree with the author of this post in support Delta’s ban of the Jewish people just because Saudia Arabia has had issues with israel in the past. If that is the case, turn down the business venture! What is stopping them from joining with an airline such as Air France instead? Again I think this is just a ridiculous idea for Delta!

      In terms of your propose question of what can be done about this I am going to have to say there is nothing that can be done. Delta is just abiding by the rules of their new partnership but that does not mean their new partnership isn’t utterly ridiculous. Similarly to Netflix when they implemented new policies, they felt the wrath of the people. I think that Delta is about to feel a very similar wrath even from non Jewish Americans as it just shows how poorly run the Delta organization is.

  2. kelseymlee Says:

    I feel like this is a terrible move on Delta’s part, both financially and morally. I agree with the author that although Delta cannot change the policy of Saudi Arabia, they still have a choice of whether or not they would like to associate themselves with such an intolerant country. Also, even though Delta cannot change a discriminatory policy of a country, they are still discriminating against Jewish people when they are the ones telling them they cannot fly to Saudi Arabia, not the Saudi Arabian government, as mentioned in the video. I believe that not only Jews will become upset with this policy, but also a large portion of the American people, since our country places a huge emphasis on toleration, so any financial gain Delta would get from partnering with Saudi airlines would possibly be negated by people refusing to fly Delta.

    Even though I disagree with Delta’s decision, I’m not sure the American government has the power to classify this action as illegal. Even if the American government did have the power do anything to punish Delta’s actions, I’m sure we wouldn’t because of our strong dependence on Saudi Arabia for oil.

    I don’t think the main issue here is freedom of expression, because although Saudi Arabia does prohibit people from expressing their religion, I am more concerned with Delta’s choice to partner with Saudi Arabian airlines. By partnering with them, Delta is not limiting anybody from expressing their voice or opinion about religion, or even the actions that Delta themselves chose to take. I just think that Delta has chosen to make a poor choice and are deliberately associating themselves with the intolerant and cruel government of Saudi Arabia. If they would like to make that choice then it is up to them, but I do think it will end up hurting them financially in the long run.

  3. wjpetok24 Says:

    This topic is a very sensitive subject because it deals with multiple issues such as anti-semitism, repression of religion, and corporate greed. It is an absolute shame of the actions of Delta, seeking the benefits of carrying a top-airline in their fleet rather than upholding the values and principles of our society. To allow an airline which requires you to ban Jews and holders of Israeli passports from boarding flights is absurd enough, but their handling of the situation and aftermath will prove most costly.

    The reality is that Delta, once a household Airline company, will no doubt come under immense scrutiny from the public and government respectively. Already losing many American Jewish customers, many of which used Detroit Metro as a hub for Delta and domestic flights for years, will look to other airlines. Formally, this issue was first detailed in a World Net Daily article about talk radio host and former U.S. Rep. Fred Grandy, whose own battle against discrimination was documented when his former radio station demanded he tone down criticism of Islam on his program. “The article included correspondence from Kathy M. Johnston, Delta’s coordinator of Customer Care, explaining that Delta does not discriminate nor condone discrimination against any protected class of passenger in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender. However, she stated, Delta must comply with all applicable laws in every country it serves. That means that if the Saudi government denies Jews from entering its country and Delta brings them there on its flight they can be fined.” This conflict of interest from the main players of Delta only shows their malicious hand in this issue, and only further promotes their fault in this situation.

    As it is clearly detailed in the post above, the choice here is Delta’s, and it 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. As pointed out in the huffington post article, “No, it’s not Delta’s fault that the Saudi government is anti-Semitic, but it doesn’t have to go along with it.” With the American Center for Law and Justice already taken up the issue and the Anti-Defamation League not far behind, I expect Delta to relinquish their deal with the Saudi’s or risk losing a majority of its domestic business.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-jason-miller/delta-airlines-saudi-arabia_b_883202.html

  4. ianbaker2041 Says:

    While I don’t think that this is a very prudent decision on Delta’s part, I also don’t see anything wrong with the policy that Delta has chosen to take.

    I fly quite a bit. I’ve traveled to thirteen different countries and have definitely seen my fair share of bad airline experiences. I can also understand how annoying it can be to have to follow another country’s laws. In the summer of 2006, I was in Australia when the bomb plot to detonate at least 10 transatlantic airliners surfaced. I flew on Qantas Airlines (they fly out of Australia to the Americas, Asia, parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East) from Sydney to Brisbane. Nothing different happened. I brought liquids on the flight, went through the metal detector as usual, and saw no change in police presence. While noticeably shocked, Australian authorities didn’t change the way they handled airlines at all. About two weeks later, I flew home, and the change was rapid and significant. Beyond the first Australian screening, police searched every single backpack at the gate prior to boarding, removing gels, lotions, water bottles, soda, and the like. Why such a profound change? US policy. In order for the Qantas flight (an Australian airline) to land in the United States, police had to confiscate such items for passengers. While certainly annoying, the policy is fair. It’s the same thing in the Delta case, just with religion. Delta (the airline) isn’t discriminating; rather, they’re following a policy that another country has made. International airlines flying into the United States follow our laws, and it’s only fair to expect that Delta do the same when flying into other countries. I’m a big fan of “live and let live,” and that’s the case here. If you don’t like that Delta is in this alliance, don’t fly them. You have other options. But don’t tell them that they’re discriminating because they follow a law.

    With that said, I think the alliance is somewhat stupid. While I doubt Delta foresaw such strong criticism in the United States, they should have predicted better. Because many people who fly frequently are going to be outraged about this, they’re going to pick other airlines. Given that United States-based airlines tend to have far lower approval ratings than their international counterparts (which is interesting since most of the international airlines have fewer competitors), it seems strange to me that Delta would risk its reputation even further by entering into an alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines, an airline operating in the tough legal climate that surrounds Saudi Arabia thanks to their royal family. Maybe Delta is hoping that something similar will happen to them. I don’t know. What it comes down to is that Delta took a business risk, and we will see if it paid off. Ever wondered why Southwest was so cheap for so many years? They took a business risk by locking in oil prices with the producers. When the cost of crude went skyrocketing, they made huge profit by offering a cheaper flight and still making just as much profit. If the negative attention dies down, Delta might have some sort of “higher plan” in mind with which to make money. Is there anything so bad about that?

  5. phillipschermer Says:

    So far, I think that this discussion has failed in one important aspect: to discern moral obligations from legal obligations. While international corporations who operate within the United States are forced to abide by various American laws, there is a point at which the United States no longer has jurisdiction. In this case, I do not believe that the US government has the jurisdiction to intervene, legally-speaking.

    This sentiment does not reflect my feelings about the moral obligation that Delta Airlines holds. Delta Airlines is not run by Middle Easterners who proscribed to a fundamentally different set of beliefs than Americans. Rather, they are Americans who cannot use the excuse of moral relativism as a basis for their actions. I would instead argue that the executives of Delta Airlines are sacrificing their morals for a healthier profit margin. In this respect, I believe that Delta Airlines is morally at fault. How an American company could have an official policy to discriminate against a minority is totally incomprehensible to me. Morally speaking, geographical boundaries do not provide an excuse for immoral behavior. As such, I argue that while Delta Airlines’ actions are technically legal, they are immoral in nature.

  6. aecorwin Says:

    I personally am a frequent customer of Delta. In fact, I fly Delta about 99% of the time that I am flying anywhere because my family has always thought their customer service to be the best along with the options they are able to provide. In fact, I was recently (not by choice) on a flight operated by American Airlines and commented multiple times on how much better the service and reliability is on Delta. My American flight was cancelled and they were no help in rescheduling my flight. Now, however, I am extremely disappointed in Delta’s actions and do not think I will fly Delta nearly as often as I have in the past. Not only do I think that this decision was morally wrong, but I think that it shines light on a whole host of problems within the company. Clearly, Delta is putting the value of money over the values that they have seemed to pride themselves on for years. Yes, I am aware that they are a company who’s main purpose is to make money, but there comes a point where moral values and customer care should come above making money. It is not like Delta is a small family run business that is struggling to make ends meet in order to feed their families. The fact that Delta was so quick to place money over their customer makes me reconsider every reason that I ever preferred Delta to any other airline.

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