Back in September I wrote about Kuwait Airways denying boarding to an Israeli passport holder. They weren’t flying to Kuwait. They were flying New York – London.
What’s more, the customer didn’t even choose to buy a ticket from Kuwait Airways.
- They bought their ticket on Priceline
- It was issued as an Air India codeshare
There, it was Priceline’s fault for booking a passenger onto a flight where the carrier would not accept them.
Kuwait’s policy has been challenged, though. Eldad Gatt, a citizen and resident of Israel, tried to buy a ticket on a Kuwait Airways flight between New York and London using the airline’s website. He was required to enter his passport-issuing country and nationality, and Israel isn’t an option so he couldn’t purchase a ticket. (As the Priceline case demonstrates, if he had bought the ticket elsewhere he would have been refused passage with his Israeli passport in any case.)
Gatt filed a DOT complaint under 49 U.S.C. § 40127, which prohibits discrimination “on
the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or ancestry” — but the DOT refused to take action. Their position was that there was no national origin discrimination in a policy “based
on citizenship or passport status” and that rather than violating law, the airline was following a 1964 Kuwait law prohibiting the airline from doing business with those “working for or in the interest of Israel.”
The customer filed a petition in March 2014 with the federal appeals court for the DC Circuit for review of this decision, and the DOT agreed to review its position in exchange for suspending the case.
Gatt eventually asked the court to proceed because of agency inaction. However the Department of Transportation has now ruled that Kuwait Airways’ refusal to transport Israeli passport holders between New York and London violates US law.
The department concluded that Kuwait Airways discriminated. In a letter to the airline, the department said Kuwait Airlines must comply with U.S. laws forbidding discrimination in exchange for access to U.S. facilities.
“It is our duty to ensure that the transportation system is free of discrimination. Period,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in announcing the letter.
No doubt the two years it took to get there involved DOT coordination with the State Department as this represents an issue of the US’ overall relationship with Kuwait. The airline has 15 days to respond to DOT.
Kuwait Airways offers a mediocre passenger experience. Here’s the brand new business class product offered by this dry airline:
They’re often cheap. They have the cheapest current business class fare between Colombo, Sri Lanka and New York for instance (I’d definitely pay a $200 premium and fly Turkish one-stop via Istanbul..).
They are in a unique position with ‘5th freedom’ rights that allow them to fly between London Heathrow and New York JFK.
It does seem rather black letter law that an unwillingness to carry Israeli citizens between the US and UK violates US legal prohibitions on ‘national origin’ discrimination.
Kuwait Airways could reconcile US and Kuwait law by dropping this fifth freedom route and flying non-stop between the US and Kuwait City. Israelis cannot get Kuwait visas, and so it would be permissible for the airline to deny transportation without violating US law.
Indeed, that’s already what they do 3 days a week. They’d simply need to convert their one-stop flight via London to a non-stop (or limit their New York – Kuwait flights to non-daily service).