Delta folds – again – in the face of misguided publicity

First it was the YouTube video of soldiers being charged the appropriate fees for checking their bags on a Delta flight that caused the airline to change their policies and issue an apology. Then things calmed down for a few days and it looked like we were back to normal. But it could not last. No, Delta found itself in the middle of a mess again this week when someone managed to completely misinterpret the carrier’s policies regarding a planed partnership with Saudi Arabia Airlines as part of the latter’s efforts to join the SkyTeam alliance.

With awesome headlines like "Delta adopts Saudi ‘no-Jew’ fly policy" and "U.S. Jews Not Able To Fly On Delta Flights To Saudi Arabia" it i s no wonder that the media went crazy over this one. And eventually Delta capitulated. It is a sad day indeed.

The uproar is over the fact that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ("KSA") generally will not issue visas to travelers who state their religion as Jewish on their passport or who have stamps from Israel in their passport. Every airline is responsible for ensuring that passengers boarding an international flight have the correct documentation to permit them entry at the destination country. The fines can be severe for non-compliance. So Delta would be required to comply with the policies of the KSA and ensure that passengers boarding a flight had the correct Visa. If they do not then they do not board. This is not racism, anti-Semitism or anything else that the stories written about it have claimed, at least not on the part of Delta. But with leading paragraphs like this one, it is easy to see how the facts got confused:

Delta Air Lines’ plan to add Saudi Arabian Airlines to its SkyTeam Alliance of partnering companies would require the American carrier to ban Jews and holders of Israeli passports from boarding flights from New York or Washington bound for Jeddah, prompting outraged accusations of illegal religious discrimination.

What is most interesting to me, however, is Delta’s response. In a blog post yesterday they did their best to clarify the situation and in doing so they appear to have made a few assertions that are, at best, confusing. For example, on the topic of service to Saudi Arabia Delta offered this:

Q: Do you operate any service to Saudi Arabia?

A: No, we don’t codeshare with any airline that serves that country

Except they do. Delta codeshares extensively with Air France which offers service to Riyadh 3x weekly. There is no Delta code on that flight but that’s not the statement made in their answer.

The other interesting assertion in their post is this one:

Q: Will Saudi Air’s membership into SkyTeam affect Delta customers?

A: Simply put, no. We don’t intend to codeshare or share any reciprocal benefits (such as frequent flier benefits) with Saudi Air.

The whole point of the global alliances is a seamless travel experience across member carriers. Things like frequent flyer point earning and redemption reciprocity and codeshares are the reason the alliances exist. And instead of celebrating the growth of the alliance Delta is yielding to the fear mongers and bible-thumpers and disavowing all relationships.

Let me be very clear on this: I’m not a fan of the KSA policies. I’m also not planning on visiting soon. But I’m also not supportive of boycotting a company in the USA that does no business there, certainly not with misinformation and knee-jerk reactions like the ones we’ve seen this week.

It never ceases to amaze me how the idiots can drive policy by proclaiming their ignorance louder than anyone smart.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. They didn’t capitulate to anything, they merely stated the facts to clarify extremely misinformed and outrageous headlines.

    1. I have to disagree here, Kris.

      The false claim that they do not codeshare with any carriers that fly to KSA was clearly a move made to deflect blame. And the announcement that they will offer neither codeshares nor frequent flier reciprocity – two of the cornerstones of alliance partnerships – is absolutely capitulation in the face of asinine protest targeting the wrong people and the wrong policies.

  2. “It never ceases to amaze me how the idiots can drive policy by proclaiming their ignorance louder than anyone smart.”

    Really? Have you ever seen C-SPAN? Are you sure you don’t want to change the quote.

    Uggg… all is lost! (now they show FOX news in the sky clubs too……)

    1. I didn’t say I never see it, just that I’m so disappointed that the idiots continue to win. 😉

  3. Very much agree with the original post. You should also compare notes with the Flying With Fish blog that has an excellent post about how all this outrage is much ado about nothing.

    Delta doesn’t fly to Saudi Arabia. Even if they did, all they would be doing is not transport someone without a valid visa which is what they, and all other carriers, are required to do.

    This fake outrage has nothing to do with Delta or anti-Jew policies, but everything to do with sensationalism about who is evil because they aren’t good at what might be labeled ‘patriotism theater’.

  4. While the headline was sensational at Delta’s expense, there is merit to some light being shed on the anti-semetic policies of islamic governments. And these are the same jokers that go absolutely bonkers at any hint of islamic prejudice, real or not.

    And while Delta does not own SkyTeam, they are a founding member and certainly have influence over the proposed membership of state owned carriers that engage in blatant discrimination that would not otherwise be tolerated. They should have been ahead of this story instead of behind it.

  5. Delta could not care less about Jews, what they do care about is making more money at any expense. This is deplorable. To sell Delta validated tickets to line their pockets at the expense of the Jewish community is an OUTRAGE. So, every travel agent and reservationist who gets a call from someone with a Jewish name MUST advise the passenger; “Mr. Goldberg, this flight is run by SAA and thus you may not wear your Chai or Star of David or carry a bible on the plane or you will be denied boarding”. The dual passport thing is old news, no one cares about that. Its the blatent discrimination of Jews on this airline, and that selling it as DELTA is unacceptable. Don’t even get me started on how it is against American foreign policy, something we as Americans pay billions of dollars for MIddle East peace. But its ok for Delta to throw the Jews to the wolves in order to make extra cash?

    In the US we are not allowed to discriminate against Arabs or any of their cultural garb, jewelry, Korans, etc.,. In the several instances where this happened post 9-11, the airlines paid dearly for this and the harmed were very well compensated. Airline paid out damages to Arabs, Muslims, people wearing custom garb, cause this is a nation that is NOT allowed to do that to anyone and if you do you are penalized. But its still OK for Delta to sell DELTA VALIDATED tickets on a flight that will throw off a Jew for any reason.

    1. @Carl: Yes, I suppose Delta could try to keep Saudia out of the alliance. But suggesting that they are going to deny boarding to Jews is way different than saying that they should take a stand on human rights issues.

      @Debra: Your dream about the travel agents having to call and warn the customers is why this got so blown out of proportion. EVERY TIME you make an international reservation the agents remind you of the passport and visa requirements of the destination. I go through it several times each year. Most of them are just a reminder to have my passport with me and not have it expiring too soon but for some countries there is a visa required. If I do not have the appropriate visa then the airline will deny me boarding so as to avoid being fined many thousands of dollars by the arrival country. That’s all this is – the airline ensuring that passengers have the appropriate paperwork to gain entry at the destination country.

      Even more entertaining is that Delta has been able to sell tickets with SV-operated flights for many years now and no one ever cared. SV still flies to the USA every day and the outrage has not existed. You can even purchase a ticket right now with a Delta flight to JFK connecting onward to the SV flight to Riyadh.

      But when someone writes a horribly misleading press release and puts a fanciful and inflammatory headline on it the issue boils over. And the airline is forced to make a stupid decision, take away most of the point of having an alliance and screw the passengers who have reason to go to KSA.

      I don’t support the policies of the KSA. But blaming Delta for simply enforcing immigration rules that every airline must follow and suggesting that the airline is anti-Semitic because of that is ludicrous.

  6. Funny enough let’s see remember that just 70 years ago American companies did business with Nazis and used the lovely excuse that they are just following German laws with respect to Jews, African Americans and etc. Same story. Those who do not know history will learn it hard way.

    1. Thank you, Robert, for taking the time to Godwin this discussion.

      The policies are bad, but if you really want to see them changed it would be useful to actually target companies and organizations that can effect such change, not an airline that has nothing to do with it. I love that folks are so excited to try to change the policies. I just wish the energy was focused in a manner that had a chance of being useful.

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