USDOT Accuses Kuwait Airways of Ethnic Discrimination, Violating U.S. Law

USDOT Accuses Kuwait Airways of Ethnic Discrimination, Violating U.S. Law
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October 2, 2015

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) sent a letter this week to the national airline carrier of Kuwait, Kuwait Airways, after finding that the company unlawfully discriminated against a passenger traveling on an Israeli passport by refusing to sell him a ticket for travel from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to London Heathrow Airport (LHR).

Following an investigation into the matter, the USDOT concluded that Kuwait Airways unreasonably discriminates against Israeli citizens in its ticketing practices.

According to the USDOT, the letter sent to Kuwait Airways reiterated to the carrier that by choosing to operate an air route between the United States and the United Kingdom, Kuwait Airways has taken advantage of the facilities and benefits of the United States and must comply with its laws forbidding unreasonable discrimination in foreign air transportation.

The USDOT letter was sent in response to a discrimination complaint filed by an Israeli citizen, Eldad Gatt, after he attempted to purchase a ticket online through Kuwait Airways in 2013 from the U.S. to the U.K. When the airline's online booking system precluded him from selecting Israel as his passport-issuing country, Mr. Gatt was unable to purchase a ticket.

"It is our duty to ensure that the transportation system is free of discrimination. Period. I know how important protections against discrimination are, and our Department will stand firmly against it," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "Today, we are saying "no" to discrimination against Israeli citizens on flights between the U.S. and the U.K. Any airline that wishes to operate in the U.S. should know that we will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our skies."

In a statement, Kuwait Airways said that it did not sell a ticket to Mr. Gatt because of a Kuwaiti law which states, in part, that "…every natural or legal [Kuwaiti] is prohibited to enter into an agreement, personally or indirectly, with entities or persons residing in Israel, or with Israeli citizenship."

The USDOT concluded that this is not a proper justification for the denial of air transportation, and that there is no question that a person holding a valid Israeli passport can depart the United States and enter the United Kingdom.

Kuwait Airways has 15 days to outline to the USDOT's Aviation Enforcement Office the steps it plans to take to come into compliance with the law.

The USDOT letter to Kuwait Airways is available here.