Did Kuwait Airways just scrap an entire flight service to avoid carrying Israeli passengers?
The airline has this week pulled its connection between New York’s JFK airport and London Heathrow after U.S. authorities threatened legal action over alleged discrimination.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in September warned the Kuwaiti carrier that it had “unlawfully discriminated” against a passenger using an Israeli passport by refusing to sell him a ticket.
It sent a letter giving the airline 15 days to outline how it would in the future comply with anti-discrimination laws.
Kuwait Airways response, according to the DOT, appears to have been to drop its London-New York route.
“On December 15th, Kuwait Airways informed the U.S. DOT that they will be eliminating service between JFK and London Heathrow,” a spokesperson for the DOT told the media.
Online booking services showed no future flights available from the airline.
The DOT’s action followed a complaint from an Israeli citizen, Eldad Gatt, who said he attempted to buy a ticket online through Kuwait Airways in 2013, but could not select Israel as his passport-issuer.
“It is our duty to ensure that the transportation system is free of discrimination. Period,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in September.
“Any airline that wishes to operate in the U.S. should know that we will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our skies.”
The Department of Transportation said it rejected Kuwait Airways’s justification for refusing the transaction.
The airline said it did not sell a ticket to Gatt in compliance with Kuwaiti law, which forbids doing business with Israel or Israelis.
It said it wasn’t discriminatory because it sells tickets to anyone regardless of race or nationality, provided they have a passport valid in Kuwait.
Jeffrey Lovitky, a lawyer representing Gatt, said Kuwait Airways’ move to cease the New York-London service failed to address the issue.
“It is unfortunate they have done this instead of accepting Mr. Gatt as a passenger,” he told the media. “We would’ve preferred that Kuwait Airways relinquishes its continuing boycott of Israeli citizens.”
Lovitky points out that the flights could resume if a petition filed by the airline in November requesting a Federal Court of Appeals review of the case finds in its favor.
Kuwait Airways did not immediately respond to requests for a comment.