If the U.S. is going to enforce its non-discrimination rules against Kuwait Airways, which flies to the US, then it seems no US airline is going to be allowed to fly to Kuwait. That’s at least one interpretation of a spat over United’s Washington DC – Kuwait City service.
United – the only US airline flying to Kuwait – has just announced an end to service despite what appears to be their desire to continue service. So it may come at the direction of the Kuwait government in retaliation for the declaration by authorities here that an airline serving the US may not refuse to transport Israeli passport holders.
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.
Kuwait’s policy has been challenged under 49 U.S.C. § 40127, which prohibits discrimination “on
the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or ancestry.” While the DOT initially held that discrimination “based on citizenship or passport status” isn’t actually national origin discrimination, they were sued in federal court and three weeks ago ruled that Kuwait Airways’ refusal to transport Israeli passport holders between New York and London violates US law.
Kuwait Airways flies 3 days a week non-stop from New York to Kuwait City. That flight isn’t an issue because Israeli passport holders cannot get visas for Kuwait, so Kuwait Airways refuses to transport them as passengers without a valid visa. Israeli passport holders may not transit Kuwait, either.
What’s at issue is Kuwait’s one-stop service New York – London – Kuwait City.
Kuwait Airways is between a rock and a hard place — a US law that says they must accept Israeli passport holders on their London flight, and Kuwait law that does not recognize Israeli passports. My guess was that they would respond by adjusting their schedule to fly only non-stops between the US and Kuwait.
Instead, the reaction of the government of Kuwait has apparently been to kick United Airlines, the only US carrier flying to Kuwait, out of the country.
United flies Washington Dulles – Kuwait City – Bahrain 4 Times Weekly
I asked United about the elimination of service to Kuwait coming at the behest of the Kuwaiti government. Spokesperson Luke Punzenberger responded,
We have taken steps to cease our service to Kuwait and Bahrain, effective January 13, 2016. We will continue to maintain an open dialogue with both governments and others who may be affected by this decision, and offer alternative travel plans or refunds to customers who could be impacted.
Tellingly, he did not deny that this is prompted by Kuwaiti authorities. Indeed, ‘we will continue to maintain an open dialogue’ sounds like an airline that would prefer to resume service.
Matthew Klint, who first connected the dots, writes:
What my contact tells me is that United was just notified a few days before the word went public and given the January deadline with no chance for appeal.
So it seems that airlines are once again being used as pawns for geopolitics.
Update: United followed up with me to emphasize that “The service is not meeting our financial expectations.”
Update 2: United is now willing to say that the characterization that they are terminating service at the behest of the Kuwait government is “inaccurate.”
Update 3: If United says the service isn’t meeting their financial expectations, but they’re in conversations with governments and suggest they hope to continue it, then they must be looking for subsidies. Even though United has taken the position that subsidies are impermissible under Open Skies agreements, and even though they are currently arguing that Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar should have their flying curtailed by the US government over accepting subsidies.