Delta “No Jews” Policy – Could This Story Be More Wrong?

This afternoon The Huffington Post published an article by Rabbi Jason Miller entitled Delta Adopts Saudi Arabian Airlines’ No Jew Policy. Granted, this headline is catchy and is inflammatory enough to make the story go viral … likely even to reach my Mother, who will be outraged and possibly forward me a link sometime in the next few days … but in reality so much of the article is incorrect that I don’t even know where to start.


I guess the best place to start is with a quote from the opening paragraph of The Huffington Post article:

“A few years ago Delta Airlines took over Northwest Airlines and now the vast majority of domestic flights at Detroit Metro are operated by Delta. That fact makes it especially troubling to learn that Delta will add Saudi Arabian Airlines to its SkyTeam Alliance of partnering companies and would require Delta to ban Jews and holders of Israeli passports from boarding flights to Saudi Arabia.”


Let’s pick this apart piece by piece.


First off … Yes, Delta Air Lines is a founding member of SkyTeam, as are Air FranceKLM and Korean Air.  Delta is not adding Saudi Arabian Airlines to the airline alliance, the airline was voted in my its member carriers. SkyTeam is comprised of 14 airlines, 12 airlines, from four continents, were members at the time Saudi Arabian Airlines was voted into the alliance.   While Delta Air Lines supported Saudia’s membership, it did so to gain a foothold in a vital untapped market … in short, its business.


Secondly, Delta Air Lines does not now, nor does it have any known plans to fly its own aircraft to Saudi Arabia.  The fact that Delta Air Lines does not, and has no known plans, to fly its aircraft to Saudi Arabia means that the airline would not be preventing any passengers, of any origins, from its flights to Saudi Arabia


Third, should Delta Air Lines code-share with Saudi Arabian Airlines on its New York and Washington flights to Jeddah and Riyadh, passengers would be subject to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s visa requirements.   The visa requirements for travel to Saudi Arabia are for those flying to Saudi Arabia as a destination, not those transiting Saudi Arabia for less than 18-hours, without leaving the airport during their transit.


Fourth … and most importantly … Saudi Arabia does issue visas to Jews. While the country previously rejected many visa applications based on a person being Jewish, this is no longer the case.  Travelers who have Israeli stamps in their passport should seek a duplicate passport, and submit the duplicate passport, with no Israeli stamps, for entry into Saudi Arabia, regardless of their religion.


As for Israeli passports, as a general rule (with very limited exceptions), a visa granting entry into, or transiting through, Saudi Arabia will not be allowed.   In fact, Israeli passports are not accepted by Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Djibouti, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia (with limited exceptions), Pakistan, Qatar (with limited exceptions), Somalia, Sudan, Syria, The United Arab Emirates (with limited exceptions) or Yemen.


Why is Rabbi Miller not challenging the fact that Israeli passports are not free to board flights from the United States on Emirates, Pakistan International Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Etihad or Malaysia Airlines?


… but back to the issue at hand … where did Rabbi Miller find any exclusion by Saudi Arabian Airlines prohibiting Jews from flying with the airline provided they had the proper visa?  This is not a written or unwritten policy of the airline.  Upon checking in for a Saudia flight, passengers must present their passport, with valid visa. Passengers are not asked any questions regarding their religion.


Rabbi Miller’s article goes on to state:

“Kathy M. Johnston, Delta’s coordinator of Customer Care, explaining that Delta does not discriminate nor condone discrimination against any protected class of passenger in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender. However, she stated, Delta must comply with all applicable laws in every country it serves. That means that if the Saudi government denies Jews from entering its country and Delta brings them there on its flight they can be fined. “

The way this is written is misleading … I am certain that Ms. Johnston’s statement does not include “That means that if the Saudi government denies Jews from entering its country and Delta brings them there on its flight they can be fined” , however Rabbi Miller has published it in such as way, without proper quotation marks, indicating that this comment is included in an official statement from Delta Air Lines.


However the crux of Ms. Johnston’s quote goes back to a significant point, Delta Air Lines does not fly to Saudi Arabia.  Delta should clearly state it does not directly fly to Saudi Arabia on its own aircraft and refer all issues to its future code share flights with Saudi Arabian Airlines to Saudia directly.


There is enough hatred and ill will between nationalities and religions in the world … do we really need to drag airlines into the argument?  Especially an airline that does not even fly to the country in question?


Happy Flying!




(*For Disclosure … I am Jewish guy who was born and raised in New York and I took my very first flight at 8 months old on a Delta Air Lines L-1011*)




  1. A KSA visa has 2 entries for religion, Muslim and non Muslim. Any airline carrying passengers to KSA as a final destination will require a valid visa as a condition of carriage. So whether a person is granted a visa or not, is not an airline decision but a KSA government decision.

    Since most passports have no mention of religion on them, one cannot claim that Delta or any other airline has a consistent policy of not accepting passengers of any ethnic or religious group. All incidents of not accepting or off loading of passengers due to ethnicity or religion were a result of staff or fellow passengers perception, which in most cases caused the affected airlines good will if not financial losses

  2. Seems to be a matter of passport, Rabbi. Any non-Jewish Arab, Brit, American, anywhere, but carrying an Israeli passport (why they would I don’t know, perhaps because they are so much smarter than the Rabbi and got their facts beforehand), would be in the soup just as well. Dear Rabbi, it seems to be in your interest to stir things up, just for the stirring sakes. You seem to be very good at it. So either get the facts, or lay off.

  3. Great blog – Thanks!
    As god’s direct representative, a rabbi should act more responsibly. The same holds good for the catholic priests, imams and pastors. It amazes me that these men of god (who are a small minority) are capable of these things.

  4. A few points of clarification.

    1) Delta is a founding member of the SkyTeam Alliance and is the one who is sending out press releases welcoming Saudi Arabian Airlines into that alliance. In fact, Delta is excited about this partnership because it’s good for business.

    2) My argument (I am clear on my blog) is that Delta Airlines (which operates a hub 30 minutes from my home) is “getting into bed” with an Airline that has a policy of not allowing travelers to board without a visa from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That Kingdom does not allow individuals with an Israeli stamp on its passport to get a visa. It also doesn’t allow Jewish people to get a visa (it asks for religion in its visa application).

    3) Are there Jews who have traveled to Saudi Arabia on business? Yes. They make exceptions for businessmen who are doing work there — it benefits the Kingdom.

    4) Saudi Arabia does ask for religion on its 18 hour transit visa app, and they explicitly stated years ago that they ban “Jewish people.” They removed it from their website after criticism.

    5) Here’s a link to Kathy Johnston’s letter (representing Delta Customer Service). If you think I misquoted Ms. Johnston’s letter, just read the letter in its entirety here:

    6) Just because other airlines have a similar policy doesn’t make it right.

    7) Even if Delta doesn’t actually fly to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, they give Sky Miles to an airline that does. That’s a partnership.

  5. Great reporting … thanks for clarification … HP should be ashamed for letting such a mis-informed opinion post without checking the facts!

  6. One more gross misrepresentation of the facts you left-out of your debunking is the idea that from Detroit it’s “Delta or nothing”. Delta sure has the lion’s share of flights at DTW, and certainly flies to the most non-stop destinations from DTW, but DTW is served by 12 airlines in addition to Delta. Of the top 30 non-stop O&D routes from DTW, most (all but 2-3) are served by more than one airline.

    Of course, the whole article is bogus… But as long as we’re correcting it… 😉

  7. Wow, could you be more apologist? As writers on Delta’s blog have stated, in response to Delta’s “defense”, “The diversity and passport stamp is not the issue. The first time I went to Israel, I was told to have them stemp a removable paper, in case I wanted to go to an Arab country. The issue is the potential confiscation of articles (Bibles, for example), that are not Islamic. You mention the pride of Delta’s global airline status with a diverse customer base. Saudi Arabia is the very opposite of anything diverse. It is a pathetic country who treats all not male and Saudi like slaves. Diverse means all religions, peoples, etc. If it were not for oil, Saudi Arabia would be nothing and have nothing and therefore, there would be no need to fly there. As a 3million miler and Diamond customer, I find some of the policies and stances of Delta extremely contradictory to the southern hospitality airline that I remember that stood out for friendliness, service, and AMERICAN values. It appears that the tragic mistake of taking over NWA has finally won, which is degrading a once awesome airline to the level of, (well, most Delta customers can tell when they are on a NWA aircraft and/or flight crew).”

  8. Several years ago the DuPont Corporation asked me to join their technical team to Riyad to help in the discussions about a bid for a new petrochemical and synthetic fibers plant for Saudi Arabia. They were bidding against a German firm. Just prior to our scheduled departure, I was called by my friends at DuPont and told that since I was Jewish I could not accompany them since Saudi Arabia will not allow Jewish personall to come into their country.

    Of course, I could not go and by the way, DuPont lost the projexct to the Germans.

  9. Well played. This “controversy” is JUST ridiculous. The headline, “Delta Adopts Saudi Arabian Airlines No Jews Policy” is inaccurate and inflammatory. I’m not entirely sure how I came across the story, since I never read Huff-Po, but after reading that article, I was livid.

    You said it better than I possibly could. Well done.

  10. NRC,

    Interesting considering I know at least a dozen Jewish people, from different nationalities, that have been granted visas to work in Saudi Arabia for a variety of projects. I know of others who have been granted visas to enter Saudi Arabia for ‘religious tourism’, arranged through a Saudi tour group (as Saudi Arabia has no tourist visa) .

    You may have been left out by DuPont fearing it could put them in a negative light … but that is something we may never know.

    Happy Flying!


  11. Rabbi Miller

    1) Delta Air Lines is very much a founding member of SkyTeam, along with Air France (now Air France-KLM) and Korean Air, as a member of SkyTeam, Delta should in fact put out a press release every time a new airline joins SkyTeam and every time a new member’s intent to join the alliance is made public. Similar releases were sent out in January from SkyTeam, Air France, KLM, Aeroflot, Alitalia and others.

    2) Your argument that Delta is getting into bed with an airline that has a policy of not allowing travelers to board without a visa from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia holds no water. Delta is already in bed with two Chinese airlines, China Eastern and China Southern. Flights to the People’s Republic of China require all passengers to have a visa to board the aircraft (with the exception of passengers in transit, same as Saudi Arabia). Flights other countries, such as India for example, have the same visa restrictions to board a flight. Why have you not previously called out Delta for flying to Dubai, a nation that does not grand entry to Israeli passports (with limited exceptions)?

    There are a number of countries that do not allow passengers to enter with Israeli passports, due to political reasons. Why are you not calling out US Airways who flies codeshare routes with Qatar Airways, when Qatar does not accept Israeli passports (with limited exceptions). US Airways is also partnered with Air China and soon to be Air India, both airlines that do not allow passengers to board their flights without visas.

    Have you started a campaign for United Airlines to cease its non-stop flights to China and India, who require a visa for entry, subject to the approval of their governments? Why not challenge United Airlines for flying to Dubai, a nation that does not accept Israeli passports (with limited exceptions?) Why not call on United Airlines to cease its relationship with the UAE’s Emirates and Qatar’s Qatar Airways?

    I can go on, but I am sure you see where I am going with this.

    3) The only visas granted for Saudi Arabia are : Business; Diplomatic & Official; Employment; Extension of Exit or Re-Entry; Family; Government; Residence; Student; Transit (longer than 18 hours or exiting airport) ; Temporary Work; Hajj; Umrah; Newborn Saudi Resident … so what Visa are you suggesting people apply for? Of course the Saudi government allows business visas to Jews when it benefits The Kingdom. That is how business works.

    4) Saudi Arabia requires no visa application or visa required for passengers in transit via Saudi Arabia, staying in Saudi Arabia for 18 hours or less, who are not exiting the airport. Your information regarding transit visas is incorrect entirely.

    5) Your copy of Ms. Johnston’s letter affirms my statement that your quotes in your article contain statements added by you, that appear to be official statements from Delta

    6) These policies are not airline policies, they are international travel policies. Each nation has the right to impose their own policies and in fact the United States has very stringent visa policies for many foreign nationalities around the world seeking to enter the United States

    7) Delta has a partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines once the airline joins SkyTeam. Saudia is in the process of being privatized, and once it is it will still be subject to the international customs and immigrations of laws its home nation and each nation it serves upon arrival in those nations.

    Happy Flying!


  12. “Why is Rabbi Miller not challenging the fact that Israeli passports are not free to board flights from the United States on Emirates, Pakistan International Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Etihad or Malaysia Airlines?”

    Nice job of shifting the goalposts, I must say.

  13. Why is this news?? MANY airlines in ALL alliances already fly to KSA and follow the same requirements.

    One World: British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Jet Airways
    SkyTeam: Air France
    Star: Lufthansa, bmi, Singapore
    and more!

    All of these airlines codeshare with US carriers and subsequently have to follow the same entry requirements.
    TWA (an American company) used to fly to KSA but that was before the internet was around to create this storm of misinformation.

  14. its up to you to boycott companies that have operations or partnerships within Saudi Arabia, but if you do, be consistent……… which means that you will not be able to fly any major airline, sine all of the three major alliances have airlines servicing KSA and are therefore bound to the same rules as delta. additionally, i recommend you avoid any major supermarkets, pharmacies, clothing manufacturers consumer goods, anything using fossil fuels (including all planes), anything product that uses basic chemical during manufacture etc, etc. etc, In this globalized economy, you should assume that the company that produces your goods also has partnerships and operations in countries with which you will likely have some ethical or challenge with. If you choose to be consistent, i welcome you back to the days before penicillin and and a life expectancy of 45…. cheers

  15. Dear Rabbi,

    I will not address inaccuracies in the article, as I think many readers have made comments in this regard. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if peoples of all religions, ethnicities, nationalities, etc. respected one another and did not put restrictions on travel? In my personal opinion, Saudi visa practices leave much to be desired. All countries have written regulations as well as unspoken “policies” for visas and entrance some of which could be labeled as racist, anti-this, anti-that, gender-biased, religion-biased, etc. As a long time resident of the Middle East and North Africa, I have first hand experience. I struggled to get a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia for a business trip as a single female despite a Saudi sponsor. I was told that I could not travel without a male chaperone. I felt dehumanized by the treatment I received at the embassy. I challenged this and after much persistence and several changes of travel dates, I succeeded in getting the visa and had a very productive trip. On another trip, I was pulled out of line in the Tel Aviv airport and searched and interrogated for 45 minutes, and escorted through immigration to the departure hall. Israel did allow me into the country, but made me feel extremely unwelcome and dehumanized upon my departure. Israel denies entrance and right to return to people of Palestinian origin everday. Israel regularly denies entrance to passport holders of any nationality who have Lebanese or Syrian stamps in their passports. Actually, there are quite a few similarities in Saudi and Israeli visa and entrance policies now that I think about it – they both discriminate by lumping people into categories by religion, nationality, ethnic backgrounds, countries visited, etc. The difference is that Israel is considered a special case – Israel has a carte blanche to deny entry to anyone it feels is different, undesirable, a perceived threat (rightfully or unrightfully), etc. There are of course many other countries in the world that have discriminatory visa, entrance, and immigration policies and I stand fundamentally against any and all. I specifically mentionned Israel as it is part of the Delta story and very relevant in my argument about biases. As I stated in the beginning of this comment, wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we respect one another and do not put restricitions on travel? We are so keen to jump to conclusions and condemn or justify practices based solely on how they impact or target us personally. NO to ALL discrimination, racism, profiling, hypocrisy, etc. YES to respect, tolerance, understanding, empathy, coexistence, etc.

  16. As Rabbi Miller is obviously woefully misinformed, I feel compelled to chime in on a couple points.

    2) First, every airline that flies to Saudi Arabia requires that you have a visa if you are going to be in the country for more than 18 hours. Less than two weeks ago when I flew Seattle-Dallas-London-Riyadh, American Airlines asked to see my Saudi Visa. The flight to Riyadh was operated by British Airways. This is standard practice across the industry. Airlines are fined and forced to transport passengers back to their country of origination if they do not comply with entry requirements. Let’s consider your assertion that Delta “is getting into bed” with an airline that requires Saudi Visas. First off, Air France (one of the founding members of SkyTeam) already flies to Saudi Arabia. So does Garuda Indonesia, who is joining SkyTeam. You may know that United/Continental and US Airways are part of the Star Alliance. Star Alliance members BMI, Egypt Air, and Singapore Airways all fly to Riyadh, as do Air India and Ethiopian Airlines, two future Star Alliance Members. American Airlines’ alliance, Oneworld, has British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Royal Jordanian flying to Riyadh. Malaysia Airlines is joining Oneworld (See the announcement on American Airlines’ website) and does not allow Israeli passport holders on its flights to/form Malaysia due to Malaysian law. Congratulations, you now know that every major carrier in the USA has a partner that flies to Saudi Arabia and enforces Saudi visa restrictions…

    4) There is no 18 hour visa application (such transits are visa-free). There isn’t even a visa application for 6-18 hour out-of-airport permits. These applications are done in the airport and have a Muslim/Not Muslim check-box. The 72-hour transit visa does have a religion box. As an atheist I filled out Christian, as I know putting atheist down may cause my visa application to be rejected without explanation. Saudi Arabia is a racist theocracy…this is not news.

  17. In my hasty post above I made two mistakes.

    First, I should have written Singapore Airlines.

    Second, Lufthansa is another Star Alliance member that flies to Saudi Arabia.

  18. The problem is you are pointing to bad behavior to justify other bad behavior. Just because all those other airlines you mentioned abide by bigoted policies doesn’t make it right for Delta to. So let’s focus just on Delta and if they retract the relationship we can begin evaluating other airlines. The point is Delta has drawn attention to an ongoing problem.

    Yes, Delta may not be in a position to discriminate but I guarantee that someone will get this on tape and make Delta look really bad. The cat is out of the bag. This reminds me of the Oscar winning picture “The Gentleman’s Agreement” You will see a challenge on tape to this policy with someone being asked if they are Jewish and being told they cannot fly and the name Delta coming up. This will be a PR disaster for Delta and if they are smart they will get as far away from this partnership as possible.

  19. “We do not discriminate on the basis of color, creed or religion unless your Jewish or your toting around a Bible on a few of our planes…now they aren’t actually ‘Delta’ planes but we gotz to make money ya know?” Delta, fly our anti sementic skies!

  20. “So let’s focus just on Delta”

    Because they’re a convenient target, considering other airlines and companies in other industries are likewise doing the same or similar?

  21. The reality is, if you’ve got Israel stamped on your passport and even if you’re not Jewish, you’re not getting a visa into Saudi Arabia. In effect, whatever Delta wants to say, they will be enforcing that policy. Delta is being singled out for this policy because they are the only U.S. carrier in the Star Allience. U.S. law does not permit such discrimination.

  22. Religion News Service, the original publisher of the article, has since retracted the article (USA Today and other MSM have already done so).

    Here is their comment:


    The RNS story on Delta Air Lines’ pending partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines that was distributed on June 23 contained incomplete information about Saudi visa policies and U.S. Jews’ ability to fly Delta flights to Saudi Arabia. The story was not fully edited according to RNS standards:

    – While Saudi Arabia does not issue visas to citizens carrying Israeli passports, Saudi officials say an Israeli stamp in a U.S. passport is not a barrier to entry, even for a stop in transit.

    – While Saudi Arabia does not allow non-Islamic religious articles within its borders, religious identity and a passenger’s religious articles are not barriers to flights on either Delta or Saudi Arabian Airlines flights.

    – Airline alliance programs typically allow passengers on one airline to book tickets on another, or redeem frequent flyer points on partner airlines. On Friday, Delta said such “code-sharing” agreements will not be part of its alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines, nor will Delta passengers be able to redeem Delta frequent flyer miles on the Saudi airline.

    RNS takes very seriously its commitment to accuracy, balance and thorough reporting, and the June 23 story failed to meet those expectations. Steps are being taken to correct and improve our internal editing process. We regret that the story was transmitted with incomplete information, as well as any unintended implication that Delta would be adopting policies of the Saudi government.

  23. Thank you so much for this clarification. It has been distressing — but an eye-opener — to see my employer and fellow employees accused of being ‘Nazis’ and ‘anti-semites’ by people who doubtless consider themselves liberal-minded and righteous but are woefully ignorant about airlines, travel in general and the travel restrictions that exist in many countries.

  24. Lucy,

    Delta is stating Saudi Arabian policy. Delta does not make or dictate Saudi Arabian policy. The airline must however adhere to it for onward passengers, which includes requiring a valid visa be in the passport.

    But once again lets not forget that Delta does not fly to Saudi Arabia.

    Happy Flying!


  25. If you people can make all these excuses for Delta’s actions and Saudi Arabia’s actions, it is time to institute your logic in the other direction. It is time that United States Airlines ban MUSLIMS from flying on United States based carriers. After all they are the terrorists. Anyone with a passport stamp from Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon etc. These people should not be allowed into our country, and they should be denied boarding passes regardless of which airline they used to get to the European airport that they will be departing to America from. You can’t possibly object!

  26. i worked for sperry defence systems in the years 1984 to 1992. we did systems for saudi. management asked for personal to go “over there” for high pay. with a smile and a wink they told us, of course no jews need apply.

  27. I work in the travel visa industry and advise on these matters all the time. The fact is Jews can travel to Saudi Arabia, this might have been an issue in the 90’s but is not today. On the visa application for the KSA it asks your religion, the choice is either “MOSLEM” or “other”. The majority of my clients are “other” and have no issues getting a visa as a result of it. Having an Israeli stamp in your passport is an issue for many countries, including the KSA. The stamp does not mean you are Jewish, but rather that you have been to Israel. In those cases, US passport holders can get a second valid passport. Being Jewish is not an issue for travelers going to KSA.

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