Saudi embassy on Delta rumors: American Jews are always welcome!

I’m overstating it a little. Even so, good news for Jewish readers: If you haven’t made any vacation plans this summer, there’s an exciting new option on the table.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today issued the following statement regarding the false story being circulated on the Internet regarding implications of Saudi Arabian Airlines membership in the Delta Airlines SkyTeam Alliance:

“Rumors being circulated via the Internet regarding passenger flight restrictions on Saudi Arabian Airlines are completely false. The Government of Saudi Arabia does not deny visas to U.S. citizens based on their religion.”

This has been their official policy for years. In fact, when “Jewish People” were listed as a banned class of traveler on their tourism webpage a few years ago, that term was quickly yanked after the media noticed. As noted in yesterday’s post, Jewish tourists do sometimes get visas to the Kingdom, but the advice of the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia apparently is to play it safe by listing “non-Muslim” on the visa’s religion line instead. (Some Jews understandably refuse because they don’t want to deny their faith, but they know that by doing so it could invite a hassle.) Here’s an interesting series of communications from a few years ago involving a Jewish woman traveling with a group to the Kingdom whose visa was denied, even though everyone else’s was approved. No one knows why, said her travel agent, but “it is likely religion played a significant role.” It’s easier to get away with discrimination when it’s informal and ad hoc than when it’s codified in some formal policy, so yeah, needless to say, don’t expect the Saudis ever to admit that Jews sometimes are held to a different standard when applying for entry.

As for Delta, here’s their latest statement via the Corner:

Delta Air Lines does not discriminate nor do we condone discrimination against any of our customers in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender.

Delta does not operate service to Saudi Arabia and does not codeshare with any airline that serves that country. Delta does not intend to codeshare or share reciprocal benefits, such as frequent flier benefits, with Saudi Arabian Airlines, which we have confirmed with SkyTeam, an Amsterdam-based 14-member global airline alliance.

Delta’s only agreement with Saudi Arabian Airlines is a standard industry interline agreement, which allows passengers to book tickets on multiple carriers, similar to the standard interline agreements American Airlines, US Airways and Alaska Airlines have with Saudi Arabian Airlines.

All of the three global airline alliances – Star, which includes United Airlines; oneworld, which includes American Airlines, and SkyTeam, which includes Delta – have members that fly to Saudi Arabia and are subject to that country’s rules governing entry.

I regret singling out Delta yesterday, although I noted (twice) that United and presumably many other airlines also serve the Kingdom. This isn’t a “Delta problem,” it’s a western-world problem shared by Delta insofar as we happily do business with the Saudis despite some truly nasty informal — and formal — discriminatory policies. (Try getting a church or synagogue built there.) As also noted yesterday, there was no groundswell of opposition to Delta doing business with the Kingdom based on the latter’s policies towards women, for instance; the outrage erupted only when people were faced with the loathsome, historically-charged prospect of Jews being identified for special burdens. The irony is, the Saudi royals have been unusually proactive among Middle Eastern regimes in pushing reforms to try to head off any Arab-Spring-type revolt among their population. They might be susceptible to western pressure for social liberalization too, especially since they need western allies to fend off the threat from Iran. Leaning on U.S. businesses and the U.S. government to lean on them about discrimination is all to the good, and it might have some small impact. (E.g., I expect they’ll be extra lenient with visa applications from Jewish Americans in the near term while media scrutiny is hot.) Seize the opportunity.