As incredible as it may seem, an airline that has been recently accepted as a new SkyTeam member of which Delta Air Lines is the largest member, does not allow Jews, Israelis, or any passenger with an Israeli stamp in their passport aboard their aircraft. Saudi Arabian Airlines, the national flag carrier of the strict Islamic nation which also doesn’t permit women to drive cars is slated to join the airline alliance early next year. With Delta being the largest airline serving the Minneapolis/St. Paulernational Airport, it won’t be long before SAA signage is visible at various locations at the airport along with other SkyTeam members including KLM, Air France, Alitalia and many others.
Not only does Saudi Arabia ban anything to do with Judaism from entering the country, it also restricts other religious items that aren’t Islamic such as Bibles, crucifixes, Star-of-David jewelry and so on. Non-Islamic religious items may be confiscated at the airport and these stipulations not only apply to travelers whose destination is in Saudi Arabia but also those who are simply making a connection there as part of their travel itinerary.
Delta has come under fire in recent days as word traveled about the Saudi Arabian Airlines membership. While the airline said it “does not discriminate, nor do they condone discrimination against any protected class of passenger in regard to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender”, it did not deny that SAA has such a policy. Delta says that it doesn’t have control over Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist Islamic policies, but critics contend that allowing SAA to become a member of SkyTeam grants the carrier membership in a respected worldwide industry organization that immediately gives the carrier increased credibility.
Many U.S. Jewish groups are outraged by the inclusion of SAA in SkyTeam especially since the leading member is Delta, an American carrier. A spokesman for the American Jewish Committee in New York said, “Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, should be strongly condemned for its despicable discrimination against Jews.” Additionally, the conservative legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice which was founded by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, had its senior counsel Colby May comment, “The very idea that there is a common-carrier airline service that woudl 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.” Delta’s corporate headquarters being located in the Bible Belt city of Atlanta, Georgia makes the SkyTeam membership even more astounding.
In order to enter Saudi Arabia almost all foreign nationals are required to obtain a visa and have a sponsor. Women must dress modestly according to Islamic custom and are required, if not traveling with a male companion, to be met at the airport by a paid male chaperone.