Kuwait Airways Cancels New York Route Over Refusal To Fly Israelis

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Kuwait Airways has a unique flight between New York JFK and London, which continues onwards to Kuwait City.


Kuwait Airways has a terrible first & business class product, though their premium fares tend to represent a really good value, and are substantially below industry norms. So I’ve always been intrigued by flying with them.


There was a story which went mainstream back in 2013, in which an Israeli passenger was refused travel on this Kuwait Airways flight between New York and London. He had purchased his ticket through Priceline, where he was sold the flight as an Air India codeshare flight (meaning it had an Air India flight number and was operated by Kuwait Airways).


He didn’t realize he would be denied boarding on those grounds. While Kuwait Airways’ website doesn’t even give the option of entering an Israeli passport on the booking page, Priceline let him book it without a problem.

At the time, the Department of Transportation determined that Kuwait Airways was in fact engaging in discrimination, despite the airline’s defense that they were just following Kuwaiti law, which prohibits its citizens from entering “into an agreement, personally or indirectly, with entities or persons residing in Israel, or with Israeli citizenship.”

US law states that airlines “may not subject a person, place, port or type of traffic in foreign air transportation to unreasonable discrimination.”

Here’s what was decided in the case, per USA Today:

In a January 2014 filing dealing with Gatt’s complaints, the airline claims that it doesn’t violate U.S. law and doesn’t discriminate based on race, ethnicity, nationality or religion because it is simply following Kuwait law’s prohibition.

“Kuwait Airways respectfully submits that it has not violated the above statute,” said the filing from Evelyn Sahr and Kathryn Moore, lawyers in Washington, D.C., representing the airline. “All Kuwait Airways passengers are treated equally within the requirements of applicable laws.”

The department concluded that Kuwait Airways discriminated. In a letter to the airline, the department said Kuwait Airlines must comply with U.S. laws forbidding discrimination in exchange for access to U.S. facilities.

“It is our duty to ensure that the transportation system is free of discrimination. Period,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in announcing the letter.

Well, it seems the DOT and Kuwait Airways couldn’t come to an agreement, as Kuwait Airways is cancelling their New York to London flight effective immediately. The flight is no longer bookable on kuwaitairways.com.


Via USA Today:

“Today, Kuwait Airways informed the U.S. DOT that they will be eliminating service between JFK and London Heathrow,” Namrata Kolachalam, a department spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

“It is unfortunate that Kuwait Airways has decided to suspend its service, instead of accepting Israeli citizens as passengers,” said Jeffrey Lovitky, a Washington lawyer representing Eldad Gatt, who was refused a ticket because of the policy. “This demonstrates Kuwait’s stubborn refusal to give up its boycott of Israeli citizens.”

Kuwait Airways is allowed to continue their nonstop flights between New York and Kuwait City, but isn’t allowed to refuse transport to Israeli citizens between the US and any third country where they are allowed to disembark. Since those with Israeli passports can’t disembark in Kuwait City, that route is allowed to continue.

Bottom line

This is probably the most serious “discrimination” case we’ve seen when it comes to airlines transporting passengers. I think the DOT is spot on here. As much as I disagree with a country denying someone entry based on their passport, I see how that logic can hold up when it comes to the legality of air travel. Meanwhile it’s much tougher for Kuwait Airways to argue that there’s no discrimination when someone is traveling between two countries where their passport is considered valid. That’s just plain stubborn and objectively discriminatory.

What do you make of the DOT’s ruling, and Kuwait Airways cutting their flight between New York and London?

  1. Dear Lucky,

    Please stop abusing the word “whereby”! It does NOT mean “in which”. In means “by which”. Does this make any sense: “…a story which went mainstream back in 2013, by which an Israeli passenger was refused travel…”?


    The Grammar Police

  2. @ snic — Hah, I’ve been trying!!! Old habits die slowly sometimes. Fixed, thanks for keeping me honest.

  3. Disgusting, if I had my way I would ban them from flying from the US or anywhere else for that matter. Shocking behaviour.

  4. How many passengers in the US were denied boarding because they look,sound,behave like terrorists in the eyes of islamophobic passengers???with no valid reason they are kicked out of the plane,just because they look mideastern, or they speak foreign language or are muslim.
    Well done kuwaiti airways who is accepting jews but not Israelis who are considered enemy.

  5. I really don’t support either but how does this differ the way EL AL treats those they don’t get on with ?

  6. I can see that Kuwait Airways would be keen to avoid breaking the law of its home country, as penalties in those gulf states can be draconian and could severely impact KA’s global operations. In the circumstances, it would seem commercially sensible to withdraw that one route. It is not as if it will be especially missed. The world is full of perceived injustices; just get over it and move on!

  7. I’m surprised a pair of lawyers in Dc even took this case. I don’t know why anyone would work with them after this.

  8. Agree with Lucky. Matteo, you missed the point. That flight was between US and UK, two democracies (hello Mohamed) where Israelis can freely travel.

  9. Why would any Israeli ever want to fly on Kuwait Airlines anyway? I’m sure that there aren’t too many Kuwaitis, or others from Arab nations, that are lining up to fly El Al. I’d be surprised if they didn’t practice a similar policy.
    Pricelines rules are pretty set in stone. This instance I’m sure was an exception, but opaque is always just that. Look to see if there is an option that will not suit you and eliminate it. Due diligence is a big part of big savings

  10. I say good for Kuwait airlines. The US figured they could bully a foreign business into giving up their principles and now no one gets to use this flight. Same as previous administrations’ attempts to bully foreign companies into not dealing with Cuba. Canadian mining companies and hospitality companies were warned not to do business in Cuba or they would not be allowed to do business in the US.
    The US does not get to decide the rules for the whole world.

  11. Dear Grammar Police:

    In the first word of the second sentence, you used the word “in” where you probably meant to use “it.”


    Grammar Police Police

  12. A couple years ago when you asked your readers which countries in ME to visit, I talked about Saudi Arabia has Friday public execution that includes beheading, stoning, flogging, body parts mutilations such as chopping off fingers and toes for petty crimes (misdemeanor only). American officials were aware of such practices but ignored because they did not inflict on Westerners. The uproar began when Jihadi John posted such practice on Youtube on other western captives. What about 17 out of 19 hijackers were Saudis? The US did not severe the relations but continues to bed with the Saudi government. If you live and work overseas, mingle with the locals, and follow their news, you will look at the world at more pragmatic perspective. The ME is more dangerous now and its carnage continues to spill over other western countries because American foreign policy has been so messed up. The worldwide injustice does not capture US news if it does not affect white population. We have gangs in all ethnic groups but only black and Hispanic gangs are on the radar because they target whites and have long rap sheet. Asian gangs generally do not target whites and you do not hear about them. As for Kuwait Airways flight from London to NY, when we lived there and flew it, it never had above half capacity. ME is the most discriminated place I ever lived in but I never traded the experience for anything else because I understand the culture, religion and people. It also enabled us to travel to SE Asia, ME and western Europe as well as allowing us to accumulate big savings and be debt free much early in life.

  13. @Mohamed ask the people in San Bernardino what they think AH, if you don’t like the US don’t fly here work here etc. I don’t care about flying with Muslims or anyone else but find it interesting that places like Kuwait have already forgotten they were on the way to becoming a suburb of Iraq when we bailed them out. There is NO law preventing Muslims from flying but what is very telling is that ordinary Muslims do not condemn what the radicals are doing. Those idiots at CAIR suggested it was our own fault because of US foreign policy. I am sick of this nonsense, you are all free to return to your country of origin but I don’t see anyone rushing for the exits.I hope Kuwaiti airlines never flys here.

  14. @Lucky:

    At least you said “unique” instead of “somewhat unique” or “more unique” (unique doesn’t get qualifying adverbs like that). 😉

  15. It looks like some people don`t read the text (hello Tim).
    That flight was between US and UK. That ticket was bought on Priceline and advertised as Air India ticket.
    What could be wrong?

  16. @PM – why would the passenger think Air India couldn’t fly between JFK and LHR? That’s no more wrong-sounding than Kuwait Airlines flying the route.

    @eponymous coward – of course you can say “somewhat unique.” The fact that you were told otherwise once doesn’t make it so. Dictionary.com:

    Unique (adj)
    5. not typical; unusual:
    She has a very unique smile.

  17. Shame on all the comments here that support hatred and so deftly condone the evils done by the gulf states by being PC. Shame on you, G-D who knows every move and thought will definitely have a word with you when it is time to move on.

  18. @globetrotter,

    Have you heard of “realpolitik”?

    Welcome to the politics of the early 20th century and what looks set to be the politics of the 21st century!

  19. Priceline shouldn’t have sold the ticket. Kuwait shouldn’t have sold NY to London independently, certainly not as a codeshare. That said, why would you force the flag carrier of a country that literally does not recognize the existence of the Israeli state to transport those flying on a passport that the country does not recognize? That makes no sense. Kuwait isn’t prohibiting American Jews or Argentinian Jews or Russian Jews from flying. Its prohibiting people from flying on the passports of a country whose very existence it denies.

    Does Royal Air Maroc accept fliers on Sahrawi (Western Sahara) Republic passports? No. In a more extreme example, does American Airlines accept Sealand passports? No.

    The argument about discrimination totally misses the point.

  20. @TheRealBabushka

    There is a scarcity of “official” answers to this question, because the respective governments don’t want to go on the record about it. But there are various reports of travelers with Israeli passports having no issues transiting DOH, AUH, DXB. Same goes for traveling on fifth freedom flights, like JFK-MXP on EK. Being allowed to enter Qatar or the UAE with an Israeli passport is a different story, of course.

  21. @Rand

    “ordinary Muslims do not condemn what the radicals are doing.”

    That old refrain is as outdated and untrue as “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.

    How about changing your tune to something more accurate like, “ordinary Christians do not condemn what the radicals are doing.”

  22. No. In a more extreme example, does American Airlines accept Sealand passports? No.

    …yeah, comparing Israel to Sealand is definitely going to work wonders for your argument here buddy

  23. El Al has plenty of cases of blatant racial profiling. There was no mention of that in your story. Although I don’t agree with Kuwait Airways.

    I do feel since your from the El Al caste you will keep them in the shadows.

  24. Um…the tensions in the Middle East have existed long before we were all born and unfortunately will continue long after. The long held practice for USA Passports has been if you have an entry stamp from an Arab country, Israel will not allow you to enter; and vice versa. This is why requests had to be made at immigration to “not stamp my passport,” meaning they would staple a piece of paper, stamp it, then tear it off upon exit.

  25. I don’t know how I feel about this. It almost seems like a hollow ruling. On one end the DOT believes the airline is discriminating and the practice is reprehensible, so they force this condition on a U.S. flight to the U.K. They also recognize the Kuwait law, however, and thus still allow the Kuwait City flight to operate as is although the practice would still be consider discrimination. It’s like the DOT doesn’t want the political fallout of challenging the country’s law, but wants to uphold the “right” position. I’m not sure what to think.

  26. @louis I think you are a bit confused. Israel will allow entry to persons bearing stamps from Arab countries in their passports, but Arab countries will not allow persons bearing an Israeli stamp entry. I have personally experienced both.

  27. It doesn’t sound like Kuwait Airlines had much of a choice. If they accepted the passenger, they would be breaking Kuwaiti law. If they didn’t, they were breaking US law. Since they are far more dependent on they operations in Kuwait, it seems obvious that they would abide by those laws.

  28. As a gay christian (atheist more so) I think the discrimination argument is incorrect here. This is a matter of a country (and its government owned companies) not accepting the existence of another country and hence not accepting passports of that “country” as a valid travel document. Do I like it? No but nothing to do with religion or racial discrimination in my view. I would agree 100% with the discrimination if the person would have not been allowed for being jewish. There is a sizeable arab israeli population.

  29. I feel bad for the Kuwait Airways management. I’m sure many of them don’t give two squirts of piss who’s on the plane so long as they’re fare-paying passengers. Unfortunately, they’ve got a fairly clear choice between violating Kuwaiti law or violating US law. It seems they’ve found a loophole by eliminating the LHR-JFK leg.

    FWIW, Kuwait Airways rebooked the passenger (a woman, not a man BTW) onto BA instead, so it’s not like they just left her hanging.

  30. @palermo
    Discrimination is not restricted to religion. It can also be on the base of nationality, as it can be on the base of race, skin color, gender, sexual preference, political opinion, mediacl condition, mental condition, eye color, perference of pc over mac (or, gewalt, linux!), perference of a sport team or athlete, using of different modes of transportation… (do you get the idea?)

  31. Dear Grammar Police Police:

    In your posting you referred to a spelling mistake (not one of grammar) in sentence 2 when you meant to say sentence 3. Furthermore, your possibly unnecessary use of a comma is being referred to the Punctuation Police for further action.

    The Vocabulary and Ordinal Number Police

  32. This is not racial profiling, it is overt discrimination. Saying that El Al or any other airline racially profiles is not an apples to apples argument. They are blatantly saying that they wont do business with anyone from a certain country.

    They can discriminate all they want in their own country, and refuse entry to whomever they want. However, If a foreign company chooses to do business in another country, they have to abide by that countries laws.

    Also, saying that Arabs cant or wont fly El Al is naive. Israels population is 25% Arab, and El Al’s clientele end employees are just as diverse.

  33. @palermo

    Spot on. This isn’t really a discrimination issue in the way that Ben has framed it. I don’t think we need to get into it though. Everyone knows this is a travel blog and not a legal blog so no one will actually take this uninformed opinion piece seriously.

  34. @ Maxi. No, I don’t get it and I don’t get the need to patronize other people either. Unfortunately for you this is not about your idea. This is about a legal argument.
    Is it discrimination when citizens of certain countries are allowed to enter visa free while citizens of a different country require a visa and, for instance, showing tons of supporting documentation? No, it is not.

    Do you know that far from the ME in Malaysia, visas are not given to Israel citizens for the same reason. They don’t accept the existence of Israel. Do I morally agree? Again, no but it is irrelevant.

    I know the Sealand reference in some of the earlier posts is an exaggeration but do you know for instance that Somaliland passports are accepted by some countries while most of the countries don’t.

    Just for clarity, in my previous post, I meant to say that I would agree 100% of the discrimination “claim/argument” if ….. – I committed the word claim/argument and it may read for someone that i agree with the discrimination.

  35. To all the “Mohamed”s out there, excellent job again on embarrassing your own people. El Al very much allows all kinds of people to fly on its planes and Israeli border control does not take issue with the countries you’ve been to at all as long as you are not a terrorist. On the other hand, average Israeli people that even step in to certain countries will be arrested on the spot. I’ve heard a story where a plane was diverted into one of these types of places and an Israeli was on board and she panicked and told the FAs and other airline employees and she was allowed to stay on board until replacement equipment arrived where she was secretly transferred. I believe even LY wet leases an aircraft to a third party because the country that they fly to doesn’t allow Israeli-owned business to operate there. So they sell the tickets and wet lease the aircraft to a third party as a loophole. Comparing Israel and LY to Kuwait and Kuwaiti is apples to oranges. Airports and airlines are globally-public facilities. Discriminating against a type of people is reprehensible. As an American, I am not accustomed to these types of situations. As a Jew I am all too familiar

  36. I’ve often wondered about Emirates and Etihad – do they carry Israeli passengers? And what about Saudia – can an Israeli citizen fly from New York to London via Riyadh?

  37. @Louis,

    That’s just factually wrong. Israel allows people with ANY Arab countries visa/stamp on their passport into Israel (If you have visited a LOT of Arab countries, a secondary screening might be required but Israel doesn’t deny entries solely base on visa stamps). And your comment on Arab countries doesn’t allow people with Israeli stamp on their passport into Arab countries is also partially wrong. There’s Arab countries like Jordan that completely doesn’t care (Heck, they even has an open boarder with Israel…) and there’s country like Malaysia (they are not Arab but they are Muslims, you get the idea) that technically doesn’t allow it but hardly ever enforce it… Then there’s hardcore countries like Saudi & Kuwait etc. that just completely ban it… Fun fact: Iran actually allows people with Israeli visa stamp in as long as the last visit to Israel happened 12 months or more ago…

  38. Too many posters seem very obtuse because they have a tribe to defend.

    When you are flying from the US you have to follow US law, that means you can not discriminate on what passengers you will accept on a flight from US to UK. The fact that the plane then continues onto Kuwait isn’t relevant.


  39. Israel allows entry if you have Arab stamps in your passport. You may get additional screening (but imho thats a more sensible policy than what we do with the TSA) but you’ll still be allowed in. I look back fondly to 2009 when I flew to Beirut and traveled overland through Syria, Jordan than into Israel. Still made it through Israeli security in 10 minutes but they certainly grilled me about my travels.

    Also it’s pretty easy for an Israeli to get a permit to travel to the UAE. They will claim the official policy of not recognizing Israel (like Iran, Saudi, etc….) but its really just for show. They are smart enough to recognize the economic benefits of increased travel as well as the benefits of working with Israeli tech and pharma firms. Qatar not so much.

  40. This was an error Priceline should not have made . I agree with Bex that Kuwait Air had little or no choice . It also would not seem sensible to be trapped for hours with people who mostly consider you their enemy .
    Grammar/spelling police : get a life .

  41. @justsaying1 –

    In general, while I am not a huge fan of any profiling policy, I can certainly appreciate why El Al profiles passengers.
    I understand that it is a very controversial policy, but an airline’s number one priority is passenger safety. And no matter where you stand on the “Israel debate,” the reality cannot be ignored that El Al, due to being the official airline of Israel, faces a greater threat to the safety of its passengers than do other carriers.
    That being said, the article you posted (from a news source that illustrates exactly where you stand in regards to Israel) certainly exposed an example of this policy being taken way too far.

    However, Israel’s Arab population is only around 20%. Even in the article you posted the statistic quoted is that “Palestinian Arab citizens…comprise one-fifth of Israel’s population” (Paragraph 4)

    Regarding Kuwait Airways:
    Their hands were tied. I may disagree with Kuwaiti policy, but the airline didn’t have a choice. They demonstrated good faith by booking the passenger on a different carrier and canceled the route going forward. It’s unfortunate that this was the necessary course of action, but as @dalo implied, I think the responsibility lies more in the hands of Priceline than the airline.

  42. The USA should just sever diplomatic relations and military aid to nations that refuse to recognize Israel. That would take care of concerns about the direct flight to Kuwait and reduce competition from the ME3 until they get their act together. Saudi and the UAE would come around pretty quick and Kuwait right away, since their regional enemies won’t let them survive long with no access to American military help.

  43. Follow the law (US if you are flying US, UK if flying UK, etc.). If you can’t comply you can’t operate. Simple.

  44. Such irony,
    I’d like to know, did this US give a rat’s A$$ about complying with country laws when they had invaded IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, SYRIA and every other country where they decide to set base???

    US considers themselves GODS on earth and no wonder, they are fundamentally an Israeli proxy who are “Gods chosen people”. Every other nation cannot compare to a “pristine”, “pure” Jew. USA cares for the safe being of Israelis more than their own citizens. The unfortunate US citizens work so hard only for their TAX contributions to be wasted on this obnoxious group of savages.

  45. Civil plane seems as the extension of the territories which tge plane registered in, and any people have to follow the law of the based country, regardless the actual location.

  46. El Al flies to any country that has diplomatic relations with Israel including Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey. Any customer on any valid passport being transported to a country they are allowed to enter are allowed on El Al flights like any other. I, an Israeli, have traveled between New York and Paris on El Al flights with Moroccan and Algrian friends without any issue. Also Palestinians often fly El Al. So no El Al does not have discrimatory passport regulations. If Arab states wanted to establish business relations and it was viable to open those routes El Al and Israeli law has nothing against that.

  47. I fully support Kuwait Airways in this case. When El Al harass Muslims on their plane and Israelis are indiscriminately killing the Palestinians, why they should not boycott an apartheid country? Full Support to KUWAIT AIRWAYS and Jews should stop whining and better interospect.

  48. “I fully support Kuwait Airways in this case. When El Al harass Muslims on their plane and Israelis are indiscriminately killing the Palestinians, why they should not boycott an apartheid country? Full Support to KUWAIT AIRWAYS and Jews should stop whining and better interospect.” El Al allows muslims to go on board and Israelis give 2 hours warning to Palestinians before missiles and they’re not apartheid, so where is your evidence. So it’s okay that Hamas attacks israel, but not vice versa?

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