According to a Religion News Service report, "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."
Back in January of this year, Delta announced that it had struck a deal with the Saudi Arabian airline to join its "SkyTeam" network in 2012 but the details of the deal's implications have only recently been revealed. The Saudi airline is SkyTeam's first member from the Middle East.
According to the dictates of Sharia law by which Saudi Arabia is governed, the kingdom has strict rules for entry. It prohibits anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport from entering the country, even in transit. There are indications that passengers with Jewish sounding names have been denied visas.
Citizens of every country are mandated to obtain visas and sponsors required for entry, but Jews cannot obtain them. Women traveling alone or with other women must be dressed in traditional Islamic garb that comports with Saudi standards of modesty
and are prohibited from entering the country without a male chaperone who must meet them at the airport. Moreover, Both Jewish and Christian bibles and non-Islamic religious items may be confiscated
upon arrival at the airport.
On June 23rd, Delta issued a statement to Religion News Service saying, it "does not discriminate, nor do we condone discrimination against any protected class of passenger in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender", but did not deny the new policy and 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.
Since Delta is a United States carrier, the new policy has created a firestorm of controversy. Religion News Service reported that 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 contravenes 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, adding that, "they have not responded in a way that answers the question. Hopefully they'll do so."
Expressing indignation at the Delta policy were representatives of American Jewish organizations. Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee said, "Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, should be strongly condemned for its despicable discrimination against Jews. 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."
newly elected 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."