Daily Israel Report

Op-Ed: Delta, What Company You Keep!

Airlines, like the rest of us, are judged by the company they keep. A look at the Delta - Saudi Arabia connection.
Published: Thursday, June 30, 2011 3:04 PM


About two years ago, shortly before Passover I was invited to attend the launch of a baseball batting challenge hosted by Delta Airlines. The contestants where Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, and David Wright of the New York Mets, who posed for photographs and fielded questions from inquisitive journalists.

When I asked Jeter what his Passover message to his Jewish fans was, he responded, “hello.” During the presentation, which took place at a swanky New York drinking hole near Columbus Circle, I found myself standing next to a senior member of the Delta airlines staff, Ms. Gail Grimmett, who is now listed as a Senior Vice President.

We spoke about Delta’s relationship with the Jewish community, and she mentioned that it was a very important constituency for them, specifically in New York and that she was excited that they would soon be launching a US – Israel route.

I was therefore dismayed when news broke last week that Delta and others had accepted Saudi Arabian Airlines as a member of the Sky Team alliance. Delta officials have since claimed that the relationship is limited to allowing “passengers to book tickets on multiple carriers.”

Of course Jewish organizations were incensed by the possibility that this relationship would mean that Delta may end up involved in screening Jewish or Israeli passengers booking or boarding flights to Saudi Arabia in an effort to ensure that they comply with the country’s bigoted policies. This would be in similar fashion to the way Virgin Atlantic actively works to ensure that passengers flying from the UK to the US comply with American immigration regulations.

What was most disturbing however was that their public response to this highly relevant and legitimate public concern was so juvenile that it could have been drafted at an elementary school playground.

The first excuse essentially nagged ‘it wasn’t me,’ when it was explained in a release, “it's important to realize that visa requirements to enter any country are dictated by that nation's government, not the airlines.”

Subsequently, came the childish whine ‘but everyone else is doing it,’ when they published a blog post that pointed out “we have similar agreements with Saudi Air that American Airlines, US Airways and Alaska Airlines have as well.”

Delta, you missed the point! Whatever the extent, the partnership with Saudi Airlines, a government owned carrier is in and of itself utterly repulsive. It is insulting to Jews, women, Christians and all believers in universal dignity and equality.

Imagine for a moment that you logged onto ticketmaster.com to book your evening’s entertainment, and found that together with balcony seats to the Book of Mormon on Broadway, you could also purchase tickets to go dance around a fire with the Klu Klux Klan. Get it?

Of course others are guilty; perhaps the US government is at the helm. But that is never an excuse; it is the culture of moral ambivalence and apathy that has facilitated the suffering of millions around the world.

When approached by Saudi Arabian Airlines, the correct response from Delta should have been; ‘we will have no dealings, no benefit and no partnership with one of the world’s worst human rights violators and as such, will not allow your admittance to the alliance.”

As consumers we have a very wide array of choices, and I for one would much rather fly with a clean conscience than an extra third of an inch of leg room, or whatever else Delta may have to offer. In fact a number of years ago I paid an extra two hundred dollars to fly Virgin Atlantic to South Africa from London after discovering an Emirates Airlines atlas that simply removed a small country called Israel from its Middle East page.

Delta announced today that they expect a "solidly profitable" second quarter as higher revenues have for the most part offset rising fuel costs. Maybe if this changes next quarter, Delta will understand that moral considerations are important to Americans, if Delta as a company will spit in the face of my principles, then I will surely pass them by as I book my tickets.

After all, are we not judged by the company we keep?