File this one in the "hard to believe, but it's true" folder.
Delta Air Lines is currently working on adding Saudi Arabian Airlines to its SkyTeam of partnering companies, which already includes (amongst others) such foreign airlines as Aeroflot, AeroMexico, AirEuropa, Air France, Alitalia, China Southern, Kenya Airways, Korean Air, Vietnam Airlines. As a routine matter - and an obviously necessary one at that, any airline is required to comply with all applicable laws in every country in which it does business, and indeed to enforce those laws in granting passage to its customers on travel to those countries. Should a passenger arrive at his foreign destination without the proper documentation (such as a valid passport and visa), that passenger may not merely be denied entry but Delta itself may be fined or even, ultimately, forbidden from doing business there. Thus Delta (like other airlines) takes upon itself the responsibility of ensuring that every boarding passenger is in full compliance with the laws of the country of destination.
All that is well and good, except for one thing in this case: the Saudi Arabian government prohibits entry into the country for those who hold Israeli passports, those whose passports have an Israeli arrival or departure stamp, or those who were born in Israel. Delta's partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines will thus put it in the unenviable position of respecting and enforcing these restrictions, and thus discriminating against anyone brazen enough to have traveled to or from Israel, whatever the occasion.
But if this isn't problematic enough for you, consider a few other implications. Saudi Arabia is, as is well-known, a country in which Islamic law is rigidly enforced, and there are a number of aspects of these laws which will now fall into Delta's purview to respect and enforce. Although you are permitted to practice your own religion privately there, the public practice of any religion other than Islam is illegal; this means you can bring a Bible into the country but you better not bring more than one, or any quantity of religious literature, lest you be thought to be proselytizing. Homosexual behavior and adultery are illegal and can carry the death penalty. And in general, women, think twice about traveling there: women visitors are required to be met by an appropriate male sponsor, if you are married to a Saudi man (even if you are an American citizen) you will require his explicit permission to leave the country, if you are unmarried you will require the permission of your father or male guardian, and if you have a child you will not be able to leave the country with him or her without the father's written agreement.
In this age of multiculturalism and relativism and tolerance, all that is well and good, perhaps; let the Saudis discriminate as they please. But what is troubling is that a large American corporation such as Delta, for the sake of its profits, would be willing to endorse these restrictions.
Think about what this means.
If you have been to Israel, Delta must now refuse you passage on flights to Saudi Arabia. They will have to pat you down and remove any excessive quantity of non-Muslim religious literature. You better not act too obviously gay, or express affection for your same-sex partner, lest you be removed from the plane. And, ladies, be sure to bring your permission slip from your guardian.
It's understandable that an airline must comply with the laws of the countries in which it does business.
But what is not understandable is that an airline would voluntarily choose to do business with countries which discriminate in the ways mentioned above - particularly when the laws of the country from which Delta does business in many contexts prohibit discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender.
Follow Andrew Pessin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/60SecondPhilos