Man Denied Boarding in New York Because of His Israeli Passport. Here’s How He Should Play It.

Reader David H. passes along a scenario from a post on Flyertalk

  • Customer, who holds an Israeli passport, books a ticket between New York and London on Priceline.
  • He’s given an Air India ticket, with Air India flight numbers, operated by Kuwait Aiways
  • He’d denied boarding by Kuwait Airways. Even though an Israeli passport is valid for travel to the U.K., the airline’s home country does not recognize Israel.

Kuwait put him on British Airways. Which in many ways is likely better. He was probably re-booked into a revenue fare class and was thus eligible to accrue miles, despite having purchased his ticket on Priceline.

How does he get back, though? Is he going to have to wait to be denied boarding again at Heathrow, in hopes of getting re-accommodated? Or is there something else he can do?

The complication: He is flying Kuwait Airways on an Air India ticket issued by a third party agent. There are three different entities involved here.

  • Air India used to fly New York JFK – London Heathrow. They no longer do. So they can’t just move him to their own flight.
  • Air India isn’t going to want to move him to another carrier at their own expense when this wasn’t their fault.
  • Kuwait is going to say that it isn’t their ticket.

All fingers point back to Priceline. That’s the agent that sold the ticket without checking the validity of the passport for travel on the carrier on which they decided to book the customer.

This isn’t a scenario where a customer without a visa to visit the UK books a ticket for travel there. The customer has documents valid for admittance to the country they’re traveling to.

Priceline booked the customer onto an airline that wouldn’t accept them. No customer would reasonably be expected to know that Kuwait Airways would be a possibility for this flight, or that if they’re booked onto the airline that they wouldn’t be transported between the US and UK when they have documents acceptable to those respective governments.

In all likelihood Kuwait Airways would rebook the customer who arrived at London Heathrow. But things shouldn’t have to wait that long. Priceline is the agency issuing the ticket, so things need to be taken up with them. They’re also the ones who made the booking without consulting the passenger about the appropriateness of the itinerary (presumably this is a “name your own price” booking).

The passenger says he only discovered he was booked on a codeshare when he arrived at the airport. If this was a name your own price booking he certainly wouldn’t have had the codeshare disclosed to him in advance. But even if it wasn’t a codeshare, if Priceline is unwilling to help then he might file a complaint with the Department of Transportation over failure to adequately disclose a codeshare in advance of ticketing. This might not get him the action he needs prior to travel, but it would be a start for dealing with things after the fact, e.g. if he has to buy a new ticket back to New York then getting Priceline to issue a refund.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has complained to Kuwait Airways about the practice of denying boarding to Israeli citizens before (when he was New York City Public Advocate). So has Senator Chuck Schumer.

This suggests to me that there’s potential interest here. I’d contact media, the offices of Senator Schumer and Mayor de Blasio, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The only real leverage here is through the airport and gates out of which Kuwait Airways operates.

This is a thorny federal issue. And while it’s not clear that New York could deny access to Kuwait Airwait over what are essentially federal guidelines in terms of permission to fly between New York and London, airports do have discretion in their gate leases. This is the sort of issue that would get tied up for a long time, get expensive, and become a political black eye not just for the Department of Transportation but also for the State Department.

Even if New York ultimately can’t do much about the policies of Kuwait Airways without the assistance of the federal government, even the likelihood that the issue gets raised is enough of a threat — something no one with the airlines or government wants to see or deal with outside of muckraking politicians — that a little bit of attention should be enough to move mountains and get things settled quietly.

There’s missing detail here about the form of booking. But this passenger isn’t going to ultimately be out of pocket, even if they’re inconvenienced (even dealing with Priceline customer service is – in and of itself! – an inconvenience).

  • Does the passenger bear any responsibility here?
  • Is this how you would handle it? What would you do?
  • What should the US government do – if anything – about the policy of some airlines refusing transportation to passengers on Israeli passports?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have complained to the DoT about Saudi’s practice of doing the same thing. The response I was given was that the rules about discrimination mention “national origin” but say nothing about “citizenship”. Total bullshit, but the law effectively allows a business to discriminate because they are Israeli (but not because they are Jewish).

    It’s crap and I hope this starts something to change that rule.

  2. If the passenger wants to be an a**, then the approach you’re suggesting of getting grandstanding politicians and attempting public shaming of Kuwait Airways might work.

    It could backfire, too, Kuwait could say it’s not their ticket, and if the passenger went public with it then that is a risk for the passenger.

    The right approach is to call Priceline, or frankly just deal with the denied boarding and reaccomodation. The passenger presumably chose Priceline to save bucks and didn’t even care what time of day he (or she) flew or what airline, so a little inconvenience is hardly something he should feel entitled to complain about.

    To use airlines, DOT etc. to try and force the airlines to backpedal on sovereign foreign government policies set in place because of the political situation in the Middle East, something that hasn’t shaken out in 50+ years, that’s just a pipe dream.

  3. @ Bruce InCharlotte has a great point. There are Arabs and Christians living in Isreal, and if they hold Isreali passports would, they, too, be denied boarding?

  4. I blame Woodrow Wilson. In the old days, you recognized countries whether you liked them or not. Then Wilson set a precedent by refusing to recognize the USSR

  5. Legally, this is a tough call but the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent add-ons to that legislation cover common carries. Saying this is based on citizenship may be a way around the prohibition on discrimination based on national origin or religion but it would be one hell of a gamble going into the S. District of NY arguing that defense. I would suspect if the Israeli guy were to file a federal lawsuit, Kuwait Airlines might lose and the court would grant an injunction requiring them to accept Israeli passports or barring them from flying to America. Also, I would guess that with the discovery related to this lawsuit the plaintiff could find an example of an Israeli of Arab origin being admitted on a Kuwaiti airlines flight with an Israeli passport. If they did find evidence of that, Kuwait may well lose a lawsuit via a summary judgment before trial.

    But this is Kuwait Airlines, I would sue them since I would guess they would offer a very large amount of money to avoid the possible problems discussed above.

  6. @kimmie a

    Of course they would, I don’t see your point. The issue Kuwait has is not with the Jews, it is with what they perceive to be the illegal state of Israel.

    Accordingly, all citizens purporting to be from it – whether Jewish, Muslim or Zen Buddhist – hold, in their view, an invalid passport.

    I am not commenting on whether this approach is right or wrong, but that’s exactly how it is.

  7. @Gary,
    Brilliant, you state ” Here’s How He Should Play It.” and you end with four questions!????
    At the end of the day there’s only one simple question (left unanswered) that your audience clearly asks “what gives the airline the right to discriminate against a nationality on US soil”?

  8. The position in the UK is covered principally by Regulation 261/2004 and the compensation provisions within it:

    However there is also the potential for a number of claims under pertinent anti-discrimination legislation: the fact that the carrier is Kuwait registered is largely irrelevant under UK law (which recognises Israel, obviously). The Kuwaiti registration of the aircraft only becomes relevant, for the purposes of UK law, when the flight is in international airspace (when Kuwaiti law applies). While the aircraft is in the UK/UK airspace, UK law applies to it and its passengers.

  9. @Lantean, I’m not sure about QR, but EY and EK allow Israelis to travel on their metal without issue. They’re not allowed to enter the UAE on Israeli passports, but you don’t need to enter the UAE to transit AUH or DXB (or fly between HKG and BKK, for instance), and immigration policy isn’t up to the airline–that’s a law they don’t control.

    @Jay, you sound like a well adjusted individual.

  10. If you go to Israel, make sure don’t let them stamp on your passport, you will be denied by Arabic countries when they saw Israelis VISA stamp. the middle east area is totally crazy.

  11. This must be a recent policy decision from Kuwait Airways because when I worked there from 2004 to 2005 (worked for AA but handled the Kuwait flights at LHR T3), LHR to JFK was no issue for Israeli Passport holders. Even Orthodox Jews have travelled on Kuwait Airways. The real issue was when we had an Israeli passport holder travelling LHR-KWI-BOM with a valid visa for India but the problem was with the transit location….Kuwait does not recognise Israel. IIRC, Kuwait Airways rebooked her on BA.

  12. Let’s assume that Priceline disclosed at time of booking that this is a Kuwait Airways codeshare, how in the world is a passenger supposed to know they don’t allow travelers with Israeli passports on their flights??

    I mean even the UN recognizes Israel as a country (not going into the question of where the exact borders are).

  13. you all are not looking at this correctly.

    this guy found a loophole to accrue miles and status on a priceline ticket! gift horse. mouth. hello!

  14. How is this helping the OP in that forum Gary? You could, oh I don’t know, actually post in that Flyertalk thread if you have something helpful to advise.

  15. I think it’s BS!!! I can’t be leave we New York USA could allow such prejudice bigotry to happen on our shores! I personally will never fly Kuwait and I hope nobody else does either until they stop this rule! I also think Kuwait should be banned from any us airports until they offer seats to everyone!

  16. gary can we pls remove @ 15 jay comment?
    don’t think your site is the place for narrow minded ignorants

  17. @doug – I agree with @aviators99, it is important to know that thinking like that really exists out there. It’s precisely because the comment represents what you say that it’s so important for people to see and understand.

  18. Wow. Note to self: If you buy an international flight on Priceline, you may end up booked on a dry airline.

  19. @weever that’s not correct.

    I have an Israeli stamp, and have since visited Egypt, Jordan, UAE and Turkey–not to mention Indonesia, Morocco, Maldives, etc

  20. Thought that people might be interested in some more details. The passenger in question is actually a woman—my wife. She is now stuck in London without a flight. We live in NYC, and I’ve been trying to unwind this mess from here, with no luck.

    Each party seems to think it’s somebody else’s problem. Air India says “It’s a Kuwait Air flight, call them”. Kuwait Air says “We don’t get a list of passengers from Air India until the day of the flight. Talk to them.” Priceline says “?????”. Air India actually hung up on me once before I could even explain the situation.

    By the way, my wife has a green card, and lives in the US. So we have a US permanent resident who holds a ticket from London back home to NYC, and an airline that won’t board her for some reason (leaving aside the substance for a moment) that has nothing to do with the UK, or the US. How does an airline get to use a US airport, if it will not transport legal US residents who pay US taxes to that airport?

    In my research, I’ve turned up this letter from my own Senator (Chuck Schumer). In this case, an Israeli citizen was prevented from buying the ticket, so slightly different facts.

  21. This is not about Kuwait is country’s transit policy… Secondly Israel is not recognized as a country by a majority of Muslim countries, so Israeli citizens irrespective of their religion are not allowed to travel..similarly citizens of these muslim countries cannot visit israel..

  22. Another problem caused by an OTA. You went cheap. Now you have problems. Require OTAs to ask what passport the passenger is traveling on. Problem solved up front. It would be nice if the US government banned airlines from flying to the US, that practice this form of discrimination.

  23. Bruce, Dan and others — of course the U.S. allows discrimination on the basis of citizenship. An underlying principle of U.S. labor law is that U.S. citizens and permanent residents are allowed to work here, while others have to seek permission. Likewise with immigration and many other aspects of U.S. law (think of the right to vote in U.S. elections). Citizenship can never be a protected category like national origin or religion.

  24. The overwhelming majority of tickets sold on are standard revenue tickets of the sort bought on Orbitz or Expedia or Travelocity. “Name your own price” tickets are a minuscule part of Priceline’s business, and I would bet that well over 90% of PCLN tickets are booked the same way they are on Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, cheaptickets and the other major OTAs.

    So why is anyone assuming that the customer did a blind booking on Priceline? Did the passenger (who has reportedly already flown in part on this ticket) mention bidding for a ticket?

    While I think the airline should be subject to criticism for this kind of discrimination and that is should have to pay to set things right for the customer under US DOT and EC261/2004 (amongst possibly other things), passengers are responsible to make sure that their travel docs are valid for the governments and for the airlines booked.

    Some airlines have had specific ID demands that other airlines don’t. I don’t like it, but some airlines are more of a pain on ID matters than other airlines, even for “domestic” flights.

  25. The US allows for citizenship/nationality-based discrimination. Did we all forget that the US had a policy for years after 9/11 whereby showing a Pakistani passport automatically got the passenger additional screening hassles when at a TSA screening checkpoint even if the person was a US resident (and in some cases even a US citizen)? Several,other countries were also on the TSA passport blacklist of sorts.

  26. The State of Kuwait along with the rest of the GCC countries have never recognized Israel. It’s the official policy since they were part of a broad Arab alliance that fought against foreign Zionists entering Palestine and stealing local Palestinian (Muslims and Christians) land.
    Kuwait Airways is a Kuwait’s national carrier, owned by the government.
    This isn’t discrimination of Jews. Judaism didn’t come from Timbuktu or Japan, it came from the Middle East. A lot of Arabs are Muslims , Jews and Christians.
    Israel persecuted Christians and Muslim palestinians.
    Palestine was stolen from the Arab Chistians, Jews and Muslims in order to pave way for the foreign Zionists.

  27. BTW, I’ve been to Dubai, and unless you are from Saudi Arabia, where you can’t do anything fun and legal (in which case Dubai is Disneyland..or Ferrari World), there isn’t much to do in Dubai.
    I’ve been to the top of tall buildings.

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