The United States government has found that Kuwait Airways unlawfully discriminated against a passenger traveling using an Israeli passport by refusing to sell him a ticket for a New York to London flight, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen, complained to the Department of Transportation that in 2013 he was unable to buy a ticket from John F. Kennedy Airport to London Heathrow Airport through Kuwait Airways because the airline's online booking system prevented him from selecting Israel as his passport-issuing country.
The department investigated and initially rejected Gatt's discrimination complaint, according to a statement and letter provided by transportation officials. Later, however, when Gatt appealed the department's decision, the case was reopened and the department ultimately concluded that the airline had violated a different federal law than the one initially cited by Gatt.
"We considered Mr. Gatt's claim upon an alternative ground ... which holds that an 'air carrier or foreign air carrier may not subject a person, place, port, or type of traffic in foreign air transportation to unreasonable discrimination,'" Blane Workie, DOT's assistant general counsel for enforcement said in a letter to the airline quoted by AP.
The letter added that by refusing to transport Israeli citizens to and from the U.S. and a third country that accepts Israeli citizens, in this case the United Kingdom, the airline is in violation of the law.
"We expect (Kuwait Airways) to sell tickets to and transport Israeli citizens between the U.S. and any third country where they are allowed to disembark based on the laws of that country," Workie said, according to AP.
The airline explained in response that it is against the law in Kuwait to do business with any Israeli citizen or company, and that punishment for a violation could result in imprisonment and hard labor, according to the department.
"We do not find the interest of Kuwait in the enforcement of its laws in this case to be greater than the interest of the United States in the enforcement of its laws," the letter said, according to AP. "It is our view that the U.S. interest in providing nondiscriminatory access to air transportation to an individual traveling from the U.S. to a third country that allows that individual's entry is greater than Kuwait's interest in applying its economic boycott of Israel."
The department has given the airline 15 days to respond. Kuwait Airways officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
A similar incident occurred in 2013 with Saudi Arabian Airlines, when the airline discriminated against Israeli citizens by refusing to fly them from U.S. airports even when passengers were simply looking to transfer in Saudi Arabia to another country.
In 2011, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) asked Delta Air Lines to end a 'Sky Team' alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines, saying it would lead to discriminatory practices against Jewish travelers. The request was made after it was reported that Jews and Israelis or passengers carrying any non-Islamic article of faith would not be able to fly code-share flights from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia under the partnership.
Delta later issued an official statement saying that it does not support discriminatory policies based on race, religion, gender, nationality, or age.
The airline also explained the terms of its agreement with the Saudi carrier are limited to booking services and "simply allow passengers to book tickets on multiple carriers."