An Israeli man is suing the Obama administration after Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx denied his complaint against Kuwait Airways for refusing to allow him to purchase a New York-London air ticket. The suit, filed Mar. 31 at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, alleges that the “Secretary has officially endorsed Kuwait Airway’s policy boycotting Israeli nationals” and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen who resides in Jerusalem, had written to Secretary Foxx to complain about two airlines, Saudi Arabian (“Saudia”) and Kuwait Airways, neither of which permit Israelis to purchase tickets. Like many other Arab countries, both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait deny entry to Israelis. However, U.S. law prohibits both domestic and foreign airlines from discriminating against passengers on the basis of national origin.
Secretary Foxx replied to Gatt explaining that since all of Saudia’s flights originating in the U.S. travel directly to Saudi Arabia, the U.S. could not enforce its law against the airline, since it could not compel another country to approve entry of a foreign national. However, Gatt pointed out that the same does not hold true for Kuwait Airways, which operates a direct flight from New York’s JFK Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport.
Nevertheless, Secretary Foxx declined to pursue Gatt’s complaint. A letter from the office of the general counsel of the Department of Transportation to Gatt’s attorney cited Kuwaiti law prohibiting Kuwaiti citizens from any agreements with Israeli citizens, people living in Israel, or people working on Israel’s behalf, anywhere in the world. Kuwait Airways therefore could neither offer passage to an Israeli, nor allow an Israeli to enter Kuwait.
“Because Kuwait does not accept passports issued by Israel as valid travel documents for entry into that country, either to visit or to transit to another country, Kuwait Airlines’ policy does not violate U.A. anti-discrimination laws,” the letter wrote.
However, the flight from New York does not enter Kuwait. Hence, Gatt states, Foxx has “explicitly authorized Kuwait Airways to continue its blatantly discriminatory practices.”
Gatt’s complaint also notes that the flight he attempted to purchase “was $469.20, which was substantially less expensive than any other flight from New York to London on that same day. Indeed, Kuwait Airways routinely underprices all of its competitors on one way flights from New York to London.”
A win for Gatt could compel the Secretary to prevent Kuwait Airlines from discriminating against Israelis on flights to and from the U.S.