Delta Air Lines under fire for Saudi Arabian Airlines SkyTeam membership

Update June 28: Rabbi Jason Miller, the author of the June 23 Huffington Post article, “Delta Adopts Saudi Arabian Airlines’ No-Jew Policy,” wrote another article June 27, stating the headline of the original article was “sensational” and “misleading.”

Miller writes in the latest article: “Delta did not adopt Saudi Arabia’s policy and Delta does not discriminate. In my article, I clearly stated that Delta does not discriminate but that my concern was that Delta was supporting membership in the SkyTeam Alliance by an airline run by a discriminatory country.”

Miller points out that Delta Air Lines’ original response, once the controversy broke out, was to basically say that if Saudi Arabia improperly withholds travel documents for U.S. citizens, then people should take up that issue with the U.S. State Department.

Only on June 24, after the controversy went viral, Miller notes, did Delta Air Lines issued a stronger statement, explaining that it has no intention to codeshare with Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Meanwhile, the Religious News Service, which ran a story in the Huffington Post June 24 entitled, “Delta Partnership May Cause Travel Headaches For Non-Muslims,”  apologized for the story and said it contained incomplete information. RNS noted Delta doesn’t intend to codeshare or share reciprocal benefits with Saudi Arabian Airlines.”

Update: The government of Saudi Arabia has weighed in on the controversy surrounding Delta Air Lines and Saudi Arabian Airlines’ entry into SkyTeam:

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia states: “Rumors being circaulated 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.”

The Saudi government does not address the issue of whether it denies visas to U.S. citizens with Israeli stamps in their passports or how their policies relate to citizens of other countries.

And, in other developments, the Anti-Defamation League called on Delta Air Lines, United Airlines “and other American carriers who service Saudi Arabian destinations either on their own or through codeshare partnerships” to ensure that their passengers don’t face discrimination because of Saudi policies.

In a statement released this afternoon, Delta Air Lines indicated that it doesn’t intend to codeshare with Saudi Arabian Airlines or share reciprocal benefits, but will interline with the airline.

Here’s Delta’s statement:

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.

The original post follows:

Just weeks after Delta Air Lines came under fire for its now-revised bag policy for U.S. soldiers, the airline is defending itself again, this time over Saudi Arabian Airlines’ 2012 entry into the SkyTeam alliance.


In a June 23 Huffington Post article, Delta Adopts Saudi Arabian Airlines’ No Jew Policy,  Rabbi Jason Miller writes that Saudi Arabian Airlines’ entry into SkyTeam means Delta, which also is a SkyTeam member, would have “to ban Jews and holders of Israeli passports from boarding flights to Saudi Arabia.”

It should be pointed out that anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport would face issues, as well.

On social media airwaves, Delta has been the brunt of intense criticism about the new partnership since yesterday, when the Huffington Post article appeared.

For example, Larry_slo tweeted June 24: “@DeltaAssist Your blog doesn’t say you are not banning Jews, it just says it is someone else’s fault. That is sick.”


The Delta Twitter team has been referring outraged Twitterati to a June 23 Delta Air Line Blog post, entitled View from 30,000 feet: Delta on Diversity.

Writing in the blog, Trebor Banstetter, a Delta spokesman, acknowledged the barrage of criticism, adding:

For this particular concern, it is 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.

Thus, Delta doesn’t reject the allegations in the Huffington Post article as being inaccurate, but essentially says that Saudi Arabia’s antisemitic policies are out of the airline’s hands.

Banstetter writes that Delta doesn’t discriminate on the basis of “age, race, nationality, religion, or gender,” and that he’s proud to work for an airline as diverse as Delta.

As a member of SkyTeam, of course, Delta benefits from the entry of the new SkyTeam partner. Saudi Arabian Airlines adds 35 destinations to the alliance.

Unlike in the case of the U.S. soldiers returning from Afghanistan and getting charged for fourth checked bags, there is no indication of a policy change from Delta.

Delta hasn’t publicly called for a reversal of SkyTeam’s decision to welcome Saudi Arabian Airlines next year.

It is interesting to note that the same fury directed against Delta might also be leveled against the other SkyTeam members, including Aeroflot, Aeromexico, AirEuropa, Air France, Alitalia, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Tarom and Vietnam Airlines.

Saudi Arabian Airlines would be the first SkyTeam member from the Middle East.

It should be pointed out that OneWorld, which counts American Airlines among its members, and the Star Alliance (including United, Continental, US Airways and Luthansa etc.) also fly to Saudi Arabia.

Delta may be on the hotseat now because Saudi Arabian Airlines’ entry into SkyTeam was announced several months ago and its implementation is upcoming.

Asked whether Delta would bar Jews and Israelis on codeshare flights headed to Saudi Arabia, spokeswoman Susan Elliott says:

It doesn’t matter where the flight is going. If someone has a ticket, proper documentation and has passed the mandated security screening, we welcome them onboard.

Elliott adds: “The idea that we are banning Jews from our flights is offensive to a lot of us at Delta.”

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Dennis Schaal

About the Writer :: Dennis Schaal

Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.



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  1. SV will join Skyteam on May 29, 2012 - FlyerTalk Forums

    […] Originally Posted by RealHJ Why not? Than more than merrier. Everyone benefits. As long as the airline is safe, is certified to fly into EU (that is a good measure of its safety record), then any addition is welcome to ST: gives more route options, more redeeming options, more earning options, and everyone benefits. Frequent flier benefits between SV and DL won't solidify. No codesharing basically, according from this year old article:…am-membership/ […]

  2. Peggy Lee

    When does PC politics go to far? When Delta is criticized for something that is so logical to an American business traveler to Saudi Arabia. Delta will not change whether Saudis like Jews and let them fly on their planes. Nor will it change El Al rules if it were to partner with them. I have flown El Al to Israel. Fortunately they are not PC. I was traveling with Governor Rowland of CT on a Trade Mission and we were basically treated like everyone else. Let it go guys, Delta and SkyTeam have a right to be competitive whether it offends the PC gang or not. And most US travelers to the Middle East carry 2 passports, one that excludes Israel. Let the free market work it out.

    • Larry Slo

      “Let the free market work it out.” Yeah, have you not been paying attention the last few years, when the “free market” collapsed under the weight of unsustainable debt products–again. First of all, I challenge you to find a truly free market. Second, in the markets that are closest to being free, since when have they been known to enforce basic principles of ethics and human rights? Third, how is our criticism preventing the free market from working it out? My free speech is part of the dialogue that includes Delta’s messaging. Should I just allow them to make any statement they choose, and not challenge the statements that I perceive to be incomplete or inaccurate?

      This blog is part of the free market. Twitter is part of the free market. You and I are part of the free market. We are working it out. Now it’s time for Saudi Arabia to allow a free market, and for Delta to acknowledge that their partnership has some unsavory elements to it. Corporate Social Responsibility/Corporate Citizenship includes considering the effects of the company on all stakeholders, not just the shareholders.

  3. Peggy Lee

    When does PC politics go to far? When Delta is criticized for something that is so logical to an American business traveler to Saudi Arabia. Delta will not change whether Saudis like Jews and let them fly on their planes. Nor will it change El Al rules if it were to partner with them. I have flown El Al to Israel. Fortunately they are not PC. I was traveling with Governor Rowland of CT on a Trade Mission and we were basically treated like everyone else. Let it go guys, Delta and SkyTeam have a right to be competitive whether it offends the PC gang or not. And most US travelers to the Middle East carry 2 passports, one that excludes Israel. Let the free market work it out.

  4. OMG

    Oh my goodness, why do Jews make everything about themselves. Why do they want to visit Saudi Arabia so badly all of a sudden? I can’t go and live in North Korea, but who cares?

    Oh, and what’s that ridiculous comment about bringing Canada into the mix? So Canada should ban Saudis because Saudis dont like Jews. Give me a break. This loud Jewish minority or majority really needs to give it a rest.

  5. Dan

    Larry, Delta is not banning Jews; it has a business relationship with the official airline of a country that is. This is not nearly as bad as what the US government is doing: we mollycoddle the Saudis because we need their oil. It’s all well and good to get onto your moralistic high horse, but are you willing to stop buying Saudi oil and thereby deprive yourself of the fuel Americans (including Jews, of course) need to operate their automobiles?

    Par for the course with Delta, eh? It’s all too easy to blame one company, but unless you live by a higher moral standard yourself, you’re just a hypocrite.

    If you’re not sure whether you are or not, try this simple test: do you own ANY product made in China? I thought so. Hello pot, meet kettle!


    • Larry Slo

      To reiterate my original tweet: Delta didn’t “get it” and flubbed their message. I am not avoiding them because of the partnership, I am avoiding them because of their low standards of customer service. I understand where the ban comes from, but Delta’s statement was a weak message of “Don’t blame us” instead of “We hate the policy and will not have anything to do with it, but economic forces dictate that we partner with the devil.”

      I avoid Delta because, as a weekly traveler, I have found them to be the worst airline when it comes to reliable and friendly service. Often, their flights are delayed due to circumstances under their control such as maintenance and computer issues, not because of uncontrollable issues such as weather and airport congestion. They are willing to fly a plane without a bathroom (been there) and leave passengers on the tarmac for hours at a time without basic comfort (done that.) That is par on the Delta course, but I find Southwest and U.S. Airways to be much more ethical, reliable, and friendly.

      Yes, I am willing to live without Saudi oil. As an engineer, I do everything I can to bring that day to fruition. As for China, if I am presented with a choice I choose not to buy Chinese products, which are often flimsier and less reliable (besides the human rights factor.) However, unlike Delta’s partnership with Saudi Airlines, I do not always have a choice in avoiding Chinese products. Compromise is a necessary evil and if I excluded every business who somehow offends my principles, I would be a hermit off-the-grid. I am not asking Delta for perfection, I am just asking for effort.

      • Sam Daams

        “However, …, I do not always have a choice in avoiding Chinese products.”


        “it just says it’s someone else’s fault. That is sick.”

        How is you trying to justify your Chinese purchases any different than how Delta tried to defend themselves on their blog again?

        • Larry Slo

          Like I said above: I do not always have a choice in the origin of products. For example, I need a computer to participate in our economy, and I am not aware of a computer that doesn’t contain Chinese chips and/or other parts. On the other hand, Delta had a choice in partnering with Saudi Airlines. And I have never said that the partnership is completely wrong, I have only stated that Delta’s messaging was wrong–which is just one educated opinion. Saudi Arabia’s anti-Semitic policy is ethically wrong, but Delta’s partnership may be policy of compromise where influence is not possible.

          I will go on record to say that I may have made the partnership agreement if I was Delta’s business developer. I don’t know all the facts there, but it may have been a logical and ethical choice. However, if I was in charge of Delta’s PR I would have handled the messaging differently (as stated previously.) And if I was Delta’s COO, I would overhaul the entire business to rebuild employee and customer satisfaction.

          • Sam Daams

            Saudi joined a 15 member airline alliance. Delta didn’t really have much choice in the matter either as you can understand from those odds.

            The bottom line is that most people weighing in on how wrong this is are being hypocritical right off the bat. When you drive in America, you are actually *directly* supporting the Saudi Arabian government and their policies, which is where the problem really is. Delta just has an interline agreement with Saudi, which lets their customers book connecting flights more easily. For someone whose main gripe with Delta seems to be their customer service, you should actually be welcoming this move, no?

            Also note this post has now been edited at the top to include a Delta statement and clarification from the Saudi government re. visas. Both pretty much confirm what most know; a lot of what was in the original Huffpo article was factually incorrect. If it had been written anywhere but Huffpo, no one would have even considered it anything near the truth. That’s the real story and scandal here imho.

  6. Larry Slo

    I am the @larry_slo mentioned in the article. I think this is still an issue of how Delta handles their public relations. Instead of saying “We disagree with Saudi Arabia’s policy and for that reason, we are doing x” they simply blow marketing smoke. The public is naturally cynical, and those who have flown Delta know that their actions rarely match their marketing statements.

    Saudi Airlines is undergoing “privatization” but is essentially owned by the Government of Saudi Arabia and will continue to be privately owned by the leaders of Saudi Arabia in a holding company. Delta knew full-well that Saudi Arabia is an enemy of human rights and basic freedoms, and could easily have said no, we don’t partner with such unethical people. Instead they point out that it is not their policy, it is someone else’s and anyways, everyone else is doing it. Profits trumped ethics and decency here, which is par for the course with Delta.

  7. Andrew

    This outrage is absurd. Most of the critics of this policy ask Delta to not code-share with Saudi Arabian Airlines. Guess what, they are NOT code-sharing.

    That Delta is becoming the focus of this issue in Washington is so misguided. DL does not fly to Saudi Arabia, nor place its code on flights to Saudi Arabia. If people want to pick a fight on this issue and get government involvement, how about banning Saudi Arabian airlines from flying to the US (JFK and IAD). That is surely more directly relavent than an interline agreement with DL (as similarly exists with AA and others).

    • JACK

      Andrew is exactly right! The only way to influence
      Saudi (and other Anti-Israeli) airlines is to ban their flights to American and Canadian destinations. However, DL and others are in indirect “cahoots” with these discriminatory countries.

      • Sam Daams

        Anyone in the US that drives a car and fills it with gas is ‘in cahoots’ with these “discriminatory governments”…

  8. Norm

    As far as I am concerned, delta will never be a consideration in my travels. The insensitivity of this Company is beyond comprehension.
    Women and those of the Jewish Faith should boycott Delta, and for that fact, all US citizens should boycott Delta. Remember, just 10 years ago, 9-11 was primarily terrorists either from or trained in Saudi Arabia.


  9. Sam Daams

    The whole thing is ridiculous and is most certainly NOT going to transpire in Europe, unless a sensationalist Europe-wide blog like Huffpo picks up on it (impossible as there is no such blog). I’d be surprised if the Huffington Post managed to keep that title regardless as it’s as sensationalist as it is incorrect.

    If these Twitter users were serious, they’d stop driving and really drive home the point they have an issue with Saudi Arabian policies. As long as the US imports 17%+ of their oil from the Saudis this is just hypocritical and a non-discussion.

    And to be clear, I don’t agree with the Saudi Arabian Airlines policy one little bit, but I also don’t agree with the death penalty and any number of other idiotic policies put in place around the world.

  10. carly

    How much more will passengers take from Delta? If airlines continue to run their business as they did in the last couple of weeks they will be lucky to be around next year. The airline industry needs to learn how to run a service based business. Drive the passengers away and you have no business. I just read that the airline industry ranked worst of all industries. Beyond the endless fees, in the last week we heard that airlines did not do proper drug testing, kicked people off for clothes they wore and for being disabled, did not check that employees are legal aliens and tortured us with system crashes. I found a great site to your travel adventures at

    • Sam Daams

      At least airlines don’t spam blog posts with crappy links. Luckily, in ever more countries, that’s going to be considered illegal in the future.

  11. John C

    Hoff Post story is “a bit” off on facts.
    As this story points out in its fact check of it:
    Delta “No Jews” Policy – Could This Story Be More Wrong?
    “This afternoon The Huffington Post published an article by Rabbi Jason Miller entitled “Delta Adopts Saudi Arabian Airlines’ No Jew Policy.“ Granted, this headline is catchy and is inflammatory enough to make the story go viral … likely even to reach my Mother, who will be outraged and possibly forward me a link sometime in the next few days … but in reality so much of the article is incorrect that I don’t even know where to start.”….


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