Aviation, we are so often told, is the business of freedom – it connects people and businesses across borders and unites friends, families and cultures. Unless, of course, you’re an Israeli citizen planning a flight with Kuwait Airways. Once again, the airline has come under fire over its decision to refuse travel for passengers who hold an Israeli passport.
In the latest case, a German court has upheld an earlier ruling which found that Kuwait Airways could not be forced to carry Israeli passengers while calling the ban “unacceptable and irrelevant”. The case was brought by an Israeli man, known only as Adar M who had hoped to fly with Kuwait Airways from Frankfurt to Bangkok.
When gate agents discovered that Adar M was travelling on an Israeli passport they cancelled his booking, although they did offer to book him on an alternative flight with a different airline – an offer the man refused. The upper court’s ruling confirms a judgement which was made last year in favour of Kuwait Airways.
In that ruling, the court decided that even if Kuwait Airways wanted to fly Adar M, the airline was prohibited from doing so by a 1964 law which bans Kuwaities from doing business with Israeli’s.
This isn’t the first time that Kuwait Airways has been taken to court over its controversial conditions of carriage. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Transport found that Kuwait Airways was guilty of discrimination when it refused an Israeli citizen carriage between New York JFK and London Heathrow – a fifth freedom route which the airline had operated for years.
In the end, Kuwait Airways was forced to cancel the route and instead now operates the flight via Shannon. The stopover is merely a technical stop and Kuwait Airlines does not allow passengers to book tickets between Ireland and New York in order to avoid discrimination laws in the U.S. and Europe.
And more recently, in November 2017, Mandy Blumenthal had also hoped to travel with Kuwait Airways to Bangkok – this time, from London Heathrow. Again, Kuwait Airways refused the passenger carriage, explaining that as an Israeli citizen, she would never be allowed into Kuwait in order to connect onto the Bangkok-bound flight anyway).
“It’s hard to believe that in 2018, an airline operating at Heathrow can ban passengers on no other basis than their nationality,” said Brooke Goldstein, the director of Lawfare Project who brought the discrimination case in the German courts.
“The airline’s discriminatory policy should have no place in a free society.”
The question is, could Kuwait Airways be banned from flying to Germany or even the United Kingdom entirely? That’s probably unlikely, no matter how unfair the airline’s current rules are or how much they clash with domestic laws in Germany and the UK – although some critics are calling for authorities to take a stand.
In reality, however, even European airlines aren’t allowed to carry Israeli passengers on Kuwait-bound flights so any ban on the national airline would have little effect. While Saudi Arabia recently slightly eased a 70-year old restriction on Israel-bound aircraft flying through its airspace, it’s unlikely Kuwait is about to significantly change its rules anytime soon.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that passengers, including Israeli citizens, could book tickets between Shannon and New York JFK. This was an error based on data available on the Kuwait Airways website.