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Thursday, July 25, 2013

NY - De Blasio Urges NY And Washington Airport Authorities To Revoke Saudi Arabian Airlines Operating Permits

New York - After exposing Saudi Arabian Airlines’ discriminatory ban of Israeli nationals earlier this month, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is urging both the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to bar the airline from operating flights out of JFK and Dulles airports.

In a letter to the airport authorities, de Blasio cited the United States-Saudi Arabia Air Transport agreement signed earlier this year, which can be severed if an airline fails to comply with the law. 

Discrimination based on national origin is a violation of both federal and New York State laws.

“We are not going to allow discrimination on our doorstep. Saudi Arabian Airlines has a choice. It can respect the law and end its ban on Israeli citizens, or it can lose access to our airports. It’s that simple,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

After an investigation that exposed the discriminatory practice of barring Israeli nationals from purchasing tickets online, by phone or in person, de Blasio wrote to the airline’s Director General last week demanding an immediate end to the policy. In response, Saudi Arabian Airlines defended its ban on Israelis, arguing the lack of political relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel as a pretext.

But de Blasio cited provisions in the United States-Saudi Arabia Air Transport agreement that provide Saudi Airlines access to American airspace and airports contingent on its compliance with U.S. laws, including anti-discrimination statutes. 

As a member of the Sky Team alliance, Saudi Airlines passengers have access to more than 1,000 destinations around the world and code-share agreements with Air France, Alitalia and others. 

There is no reason why Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy should impede any passengers from traveling to these international destinations.

Read de Blasio’s letter to the airport authorities:

July 24, 2013

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Patrick J. Foye, Executive Director
225 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10003

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
John E. Potter, President and Chief Executive Officer
1 Aviation Circle
Washington, DC 20001

Re: Saudi Arabian Airlines Passenger Discrimination.

Dear Mr. Foye and Mr. Potter:

I write to urge the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (“Port Authority”) and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (“MWAA”) to take necessary steps to bar Saudi Arabian Airlines (“SAA”) from operating at John F. Kennedy International Airport (“JFK”) and Washington Dulles International Airport (“Dulles”), respectively, if the airline does not immediately end its discrimination against Israeli passengers on the basis of national origin.

As of the writing of this letter, SAA’s website requires all potential passengers to select their nationality from a drop-down menu in order to purchase tickets for flights to and from JFK and Dulles. The drop-down menu features all nationalities with the exception of “Israeli,” and therefore prevents Israeli nationals from purchasing tickets online.

Staff members on SAA’s telephone reservation hotline confirmed that Israeli nationals are also prohibited from purchasing tickets on the phone and in person for SAA flights. According to the company’s reservation agents, this restriction applies to all SAA flights, including transit flights where visas are not required. Representatives from SAA have repeatedly defended this discriminatory policy in the media over the past several days.

SAA’s failure to allow Israeli passengers to purchase tickets is a clear violation of several federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of national origin—including 49 U.S.C. 40127(a), 42 U.S.C. 2000(a)—as well as various state and local provisions.

Because Saudi Arabian Airlines flies in and out of JFK and Dulles and conducts business at both of those locations, it is subject to all relevant local, state and federal laws. Moreover, according to Article 4 of the United States-Saudi Arabia Air Transport agreement signed May 28, 2013, airline permissions may be revoked, suspended or limited if the airline has “failed to comply with the laws” of the United States.

Accordingly, as the principal holders of the leases that authorize SAA to operate out of JFK’s Terminal 1 and Dulles’ Main Terminal, I ask that the Port Authority and MWAA take immediate steps to ensure that all nationalities are able to purchase tickets for flights on Saudi Arabian Airlines and take necessary steps to revoke SAA’s permission to operate at JFK and Dulles if corrective action is not taken by the airline. If you have any questions, you may contact my General Counsel, Steven Newmark, at 212-669-7200.

Thank you very much for your time and attention in this matter.
Bill de Blasio

Public Advocate for the City of New York

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