Delta Takes Zigzag Pattern Over Saudi Partnership

Delta Air Lines' PR team is once again hard at work, this time over the airline's decision to include Saudi Arabian Airlines in its SkyTeam alliance program. The agreement, filed in January, has recently spawned accusations that Delta will discriminate against Jews flying the airline.

Michael Chabin of the Huffington Post wrote on July 23 that "Saudi Arabia bans anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport from entering the country, even in transit. Many Jews believe the kingdom has also withheld visas from travelers with Jewish-sounding names."

On July 24, Delta issued a statement that it "does not discriminate nor do we condone discrimination against any of our customers in regards to age, race, nationality, religion or gender." The statement included the clarification that its only agreement with Saudi Arabian Airlines is "a standard industry interline agreement," which allows passengers to book tickets on multiple carriers. The statement also said Delta does not operate service to Saudi Arabia and does not codeshare with any airline that serves that country. 

A follow-up statement, written by Trebor Banstetter of the Delta media team, was later posted on the company's "Under the Wing" blog in response to the growing backlash against Delta on Twitter and around the Web. 

On whether Saudi Arabian Airlines’ membership in SkyTeam means Delta is adopting any type of policies that could present barriers to travel for some passengers, including Jewish customers, Banstetter said, perhaps, defensively, "It’s important to realize that visa requirements to enter any country are dictated by that nation’s government, not the airlines, and they apply to anyone entering the country regardless of whether it’s by plane, bus or train."

Banstetter went on to say, "We, like all international airlines, are required to comply with all applicable laws governing entry into every country we serve.You as passengers are responsible for obtaining the necessary travel documents, such as visas and certification of required vaccinations, and we’re responsible for making sure that you have the proper documentation before you board."

While Banstetter is adamant that Delta doesn't discriminate and only complies with a country’s laws, the "it’s out of our hands” response begs the question of whether or not the airline had anticipated this reaction to its deal with Saudi Arabian Airlines. For the moment, at least, it's in catch-up mode.