Sen. Kirk wants FAA to investigate alleged religious discrimination by Delta

Illinois Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (R) called Friday for the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate allegations Delta Airlines blocked Jewish passengers from flying as part of an agreement with a Saudi Arabian airline.

USA Today reported Thursday on rumors circulating Internet that as part of Saudi Arabian Airlines's agreement to join Delta's SkyTeam alliance, Delta would enforce a Saudi ban on passengers from Israel and non-Islamic religious artifacts.


Delta denied the accusation, saying it had a nondiscrimination policy, but Kirk still called for an investigation Friday.

"I am deeply concerned by the June 23, 2011, report in USA Today entitled 'U.S. Jews not able to fly on Delta flights to Saudi Arabia,'" Kirk wrote in a letter to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.  "If true, this policy appears to violate the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause while undermining the purpose of the Federal Aviation Administration – to promote the safety and expansion of U.S. civil aviation.

"I request your investigation into this matter to determine whether Delta Airlines violated U.S. law or regulation and to ensure no U.S. citizen is denied their right to fly solely on the basis of their religion," he continued. "Since a core mission of the FAA is to promote civil aviation, I would expect the FAA to use its full statutory and regulatory power to ensure that America's civil airways are not restricted for persons regardless of faith."

Delta sought to tamp down the controversy before Kirk's letter, taking to its blog on the company's website to respond to the report.

"We’ve gotten questions today from you, our concerned customers, following an article about Saudi Arabian Airlines joining SkyTeam (the global airline alliance that includes Delta as a member)," Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter wrote on the company's blog.

"After listening to many of your thoughts today, we’d like to take this opportunity to share some information and help to clarify some of the questions we know you have," Banstetter continued. First and foremost, I think one of the most important things to mention here is that Delta does not discriminate nor do we condone discrimination against anyone in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender."

The company added that "requirements to enter any country are dictated by that nation’s government, not the airlines, and they apply to anyone entering the country regardless of whether it’s by plane, bus or train."

"We, like all international airlines, are required to comply with all applicable laws governing entry into every country we serve," Banstetter wrote. "You as passengers are responsible for obtaining the necessary travel documents, such as visas and certification of required vaccinations, and we’re responsible for making sure that you have the proper documentation before you board." 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabian also moved Friday to try to dispel the rumors, saying in a statement that "rumors being circulated via the Internet regarding passenger flight restrictions on Saudi Arabian Airlines are completely false.

"The Government of Saudi Arabia does not deny visas to U.S. citizens based on their religion," the Saudi statement said.

This article was updated with new information at 3:13 p.m.