By Ed Attwood
US airline confirms passengers on its flights will not be forced to reveal their religion
Delta Airlines has promised its customers that they will not be forced to reveal their religious affiliation when boarding the US carrier’s services on flights that end in Saudi Arabia.
The company has been under intense local pressure since Saudia, the kingdom’s flag-carrier, joined the Sky Team international airline network in June, a move that critics said could result in some American Jews being banned from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi regulations state that travellers to the country must disclose their religion before travelling to the country. Some US critics have taken this to mean that airlines must request this information, even though this is actually required before a Saudi visa is granted to the visitor.
In addition, Delta does not currently fly directly to Saudi Arabia, nor does it codeshare with any airlines that do fly directly to the kingdom.
In a June press release, the carrier said that it only had a standard interline agreement with Saudia under the terms of the Sky Team deal, similar to agreements the Saudi carrier already has with American Airlines, US Airways and Alaska Airlines.
However, the Sky Team deal still caused a storm of protest in the US, with some critics claiming on the Delta website that the carrier was discriminating against all religions.
But in a letter to a US rabbi, who questioned whether Delta CEO Richard Anderson had had a gun held to his head to “cut this deal”, the airline confirmed that it would not ask any passengers on its flights questions about their religion.
"Delta employees do not currently and will not in future, request that customers declare their religious affiliation,” Delta senior vice president for government affairs Andrea Fischer Newman wrote in a letter to the rabbi. “We would also not seek such information on behalf of any Sky Team partner or any airline."
I t is within the sovereign rights of Saudi Arabia to require from anyone that is enter their country to declare his religious affiliation on the visa application. It is also within the rights of any applicant requiring visa to enter Saudi Arabia to refuse to answer that question. The issue here is this, do you want to declare your affiliation to be granted the visa or not. Applicants have the right to decide how important their visit to KSA is. Israel demands the same from Jews and non-Jews entering Israel for visit or requiring residency where only Jews are able to claim residency based on religious affiliation (under the Right of Return law). I am not sure what is the fuss is all about, the information that the Saudis are asking for is readily available on the visa application for each and every x-pats in or applying for a visit/resident visa in the KSA. Coordination internally between Saudi government agencies will solve this issue.
It looks like a blown up problem...it should be sorted out on the table..