Kuwait Airways’ Controversial London To New York Flight Is Still Operating (Sort Of)

One of the more interesting political airline stories of last year involved Kuwait Airways’ fifth freedom flight between London and New York. Kuwait Airways operated a flight from Kuwait to London to New York, and had pick-up rights in London, meaning you could fly them between the US and UK.

KWILHRJFK

While their product is extremely uncompetitive, you couldn’t argue with their excellent business class pricing, which was consistently the lowest in the market.

Last year Kuwait Airways was forced to discontinue the flight between London and New York, though. This was due to a case from 2013, where a passengers with an Israeli passport traveling between New York and London was refused boarding. He booked the ticket through Priceline (which allowed him to enter his Israeli passport information) as an Air India codeshare flight.

Kuwait Airways refused to transport him, claiming 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.”

Kuwait-Airways-747
Kuwait Airways 747

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

The legal question became what constitutes “unreasonable discrimination.” The DOT came to a ruling on that late last year, when they decided that Kuwait Airways was in fact engaging in discrimination. This meant they had to discontinue their route between London and New York, since it was ruled that this was unreasonable discrimination when a Kuwaiti company is operating flights between the US and UK.

Meanwhile Kuwait Airways was allowed to continue to operate their Kuwait to New York flight, since it’s a national policy as opposed to an airline policy. In other words, since someone can’t enter Kuwait on an Israeli passport, it wasn’t considered unreasonable discrimination.

One of these days....
Kuwait Airways A340

Which brings me to an interesting update. I was looking for cheap business class fares out of Colombo yesterday, when I noticed something which surprised me — Kuwait Airways is once again offering flights between London and New York.

Kuwait-Airways-Fare

Did they come to some resolution with the Department of Transportation, or how is that possible?

After fiddling around a bit, it seems that the Kuwait Airways London to New York flight is only bookable in conjunction with the Kuwait City to London flight. In other words, even though they’re operating the flight, they don’t have pick-up rights in the market.

I’m guessing that transatlantic flight usually goes out pretty empty, given that some passengers are presumably getting off in London, and there’s no possibility of more passengers boarding in London.

It’s all sort of silly, when you think about it. If they’d simply choose to not discriminate, they’d be allowed to sell tickets on that route again. While the airline is extremely unprofitable, I guess they place the highest price on pride…

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. “While the airline is extremely unprofitable, I guess they place the highest price on pride…”

    Or, they place the highest price on not breaking the law, and getting thrown in a Kuwaiti prison.

  2. Being a bigot costs money. Oh well.

    The more absurd point of this policy is that Kuwait is free today — and not a vassal of Saddam Husein — because of Israeli cooperation (in which Israel subjected itself to Israeli missiles and refrained from retaliating during the Gulf War), while the Palestinians actively supported the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Kuwait has not forgotten the collaboration of its Palestinian residents (many of whom were deported), but it’s bigotry is too great to recognize Israel’s salient role in its independence.

  3. “If they’d simply choose to not discriminate, they’d be allowed to sell tickets on that route again.”

    What part of they’re legally not allowed to do business with Israelis is unclear? How exactly does the airline have a choice here?

  4. @ Arcanum — Just because it’s government sanctioned doesn’t mean it isn’t discrimination…

  5. It seems like quid pro quo, since Israel does not allow its own passport holders to visit certain countries without special permission. Isn’t that a form of discrimination, too?

  6. Yes it’s discrimination but it’s a government requirement not government sanctioned. They aren’t CHOOSING to discriminate, their government is.

    Is an interesting one though.

  7. @ F — The airline is government owned, though. Government=airline, when that’s the case, in my opinion.

  8. The law that the airline is subject to may be discriminatory towards Israeli citizens, but I fail to see how you think the airline can act other than in accordance with that law. Pride has nothing to do with it.

  9. America had ridiculous anti cuba policy till 2 years ago. You couldn’t do anything with Cuba because some republicans wanted to appease some people and get their votes.

    Sounds about the same to me.

  10. Well Lucky, maybe if your people had done a better job with their Final Solution, this would be a moot point.

  11. @Credit – I was thinking the exact same thing. Americans were told that we can’t conduct business with Cuba (and a short list of other countries) and it is seemed to be widely accepted without question. But another country has a similar law and they’re all bigots.

    For the record, I mostly think they’re both wrong… but there’s definitely a double standard.

  12. I dont like Israel and I dont like Kuwait, and therefore I will never travel to this countries.

  13. Its not pride Lucky. Israel is under sanctions by Arab countries. The sanctions are meant to hurt till Israel changes its behaviour of treating non jews as second class citizens. The apartheid regime in South Africa had very similar laws to what Israel has. They too claimed the Bantustans were not part of South Africa proper hence the blacks are not citizens of South Africa and cannot vote. Israel follows the same policy with Palestinians claiming they are citizens of West Bank and not Israel hence cannot vote in Israeli elections.
    All this silliness could be stopped if Israel just acquised to one adult one vote but I guess they place the highest price on pride…

  14. “Kuwait is free today — and not a vassal of Saddam Husein — because of Israeli cooperation”

    That has to be the funniest thing ever written on Lucky’s site.

    This is only controversial because that person probably chose to deliberately book a ticket with them, knowing he wouldn’t be able to fly, and decided to sue them hoping they’d lose some business.

  15. I’m not sure of the sarcasm in Matt’s comment, but @Lucky, you have my permission (and I’m sure most people’s) to remove that ignorant comment.

  16. This seems to be a little different than the Cuba-us realation. It would be a double standard to say Kuwait airline can’t fly at all to the US because they don’t allow Israeli citizens in the country but this is not the case. I think Kuwait air and Kuwait have the right to not do business with Israeli ( I don’t agree) citizens but us has the right for this ruling.

  17. Just to add once a Cuban person was in the US legally they were not denied boarding on US airlines or to other business as is the case with this ruling.

  18. The airline isn’t banned from 5th freedom between LHR and JFK; it still holds the right to sell tickets & fly between these two cities. However, until a final judgement comes out of the court case about not carrying Israel passport holders, the airline decided to stop selling all tickets between LON and NYC.
    I can see the logic in that (regardless if I agree with the principle of the argument to carry or not).

  19. @ Lucky: I’m not saying it isn’t discrimination. I’m saying the airline doesn’t have a choice. Kuwaiti law says they can’t carry Israelis. US law says they must. Since neither government is likely to change, the airline has taken the only practical course of action. You can’t fault them for being caught in the middle.

    @ Aaron: I read a bit more into this when the story first came out. She’s Israeli but in New York on a green card. The ticket was booked innocently by her American husband and she only found out about the issue (and that she wasn’t on Jet Airways) when she got to the airport. Some Jewish activist lawyer in New York convinced her afterwards to (literally) make a federal case out of it.

    FWIW, a few clever Israelis have apparently been booking these flights for years. When they get to JFK and tell the agents they’re Israeli, Kuwait would rebook them on another airline to London for free. It’s a sneaky way to get BA business class for Kuwait prices.

  20. @ Susan what about all the countries the U.S. Department of State forbids U.S. passport holders from visiting? You think that justifies discrimination?

  21. I was literally talking about this on Saturday night! A mate of mine was flying LHR-JFK on Kuwait, got to the airport and was told the flight didnt exist! Long story short, they were rebooked onto BA – but crazy that they made it to the airport without hearing that the flight wasnt operating!

  22. @Josh G:

    I’m not saying anything justifies discrimination; I was merely pointing out that Kuwait isn’t the only country that discriminates against citizens of other countries. It’s the nature of diplomacy. Neither Kuwait nor Israel are unique in this regard.

  23. I have flown many times nyc to london in the nineties onboard kuwait air.
    The service was impeccable and the food was a smorgasbord of Kuwaiti cuisine.
    There was something exotic and mystical about flying airlines from the middle east.
    As for kuwaits refusal to deny jews from Israel from flying their airline fair enough.
    i would love to see a group of extremist arabs checking in at tel aviv to board an elal flight.
    good luck

  24. @Lucky, you SHOULD NOT allow people like Matt to write this sort of comments. Sarcasm or not.
    Please, your action here.

  25. @arcanun (and others) the fact that the Kuwaiti law says that they can’t sell tickets to Israeli citizens does not mean it’s not discrimination. If the Kuwaiti law would say they can’t sell to women, would that be fine because it’s the law? Of course not, and flying from the US means they should obey US law.
    Your other ‘facts’ about the story are not only wrong, but offensive when they suggest that Israelis try to use this to get free tickets.

  26. @ Mo: Learn to read. I quite clearly acknowledged it’s discrimination. You seem to be missing the point that the Kuwaiti and US laws are in direct opposition and the airline cannot obey both at the same time.

    As for “flying from the US means they should obey US law”, I’d love to see the reaction if another country tried to impose their laws on an American carrier. Trump and his nutters would have a field day with that!

    As others have said, neither the American nor Israeli governments can really claim the moral high ground. They have both done things just as sketchy as the Kuwaitis. There are no clean hands in that region.

  27. so if Iwant a cheap NYC-London roundtrip can I book a NYC-KuwaitCity roundtrip, fly to Kuwait, immediately fly back to London, “lay over” in London for a week, and continue on back to NYC?

  28. “and she only found out about the issue (and that she wasn’t on Jet Airways) when she got to the airport”

    But don’t most tickets list that the flight is being operated by someone else? Wouldn’t the person in quetion have noticed it was being operated by Kuwait Airways? It should have given them pause for sure.

    Also, as per Lucky, it’s a he, and an Air India codeshare flight, not Jet Airways.

    “FWIW, a few clever Israelis have apparently been booking these flights for years. When they get to JFK and tell the agents they’re Israeli, Kuwait would rebook them on another airline to London for free.”

    Hmm. If that’s true, I’m surprised the airline didn’t do that in this case as well.

    “As for kuwaits refusal to deny jews from Israel from flying their airline fair enough”

    No, they aren’t refusing Jews from Israel, anyone with an Israeli passport whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian would be denied.

    “i would love to see a group of extremist arabs checking in at tel aviv to board an elal flight.”

    Are you implying that all Arabs are extremists, or…? I’m not sure what the point of that comment is.

  29. One wonders if Ben would say the same thing had it been against a South African during apartheid. Let’s not forget “Israel” is a colonial occupier that continues to displace millions under the racist notion of the nation-state that is comically justified biblically.

  30. Interesting how opinionated on the topic of Israel the comments section has become. I lived in Israel (and other neighboring countries where technically holders of an Israeli visa should not be allowed entry) for four years and have yet to see a country which can claim technical sophistication in as many fields as Israel. Having lived there, it’s hard not to appreciate the beauty and resilience of its people. If Israelis weren’t resilient, they would once again be incarcerated to another region in the world. I would not agree with the statement that they are colonial occupiers (a term very popular in the media today with regards to Israel); perhaps mass settlers aided by the UNGA and the British. Anyways, this is a reminder that I must make another trip to the holy land soon.

    As far as this article is concerned, governments mandate laws. If you travel in most of the middle eastern airlines, you are flying an entity owned by the respective governments. Therefore, choose your airline and route of travel carefully and not just based on cost…

  31. @ Aaron: Whoops! Yes, it was indeed Air India, not Jet. Getting my Indian carriers mixed up! Just booked a Jet flight so maybe that’s why they’re in my head.

    Lucky’s wrong about it being a man, though. Her husband actually commented on VFTW’s original post back in 2014 and also participated in one of the (lengthy) FT threads on the topic, so it is most definitely a woman in this case.

    “The problem with things you read on the internet is it’s hard to verify their accuracy.” – Abraham Lincoln

  32. Surprised at the silly comment from Lucky about the pride bit, are you jewish or a suporter of Israel? only such people would see Israel and its policies as a non-issue. Maybe apartheid Aouth Africa was also fine as it was for your types

  33. Lets say Israel was Kuwait and Kuwait was Israel harassing a jewish population and taking up their land next door were there such a place, and Israel decided to boycott Kuwait and some Arab Kuwaiti/US national pulled this stunt of trying to fly EL AL even when its not allowed to carry the person on his Kuwait passport not even between JFK-LHR, would you not support EL AL and Israel for the boycott based mainly on human rights or would you call them bigots for dscriminating against Kuwaitis who were harassing jews and occupying their lands?

  34. A lot of surprisingly stupid comments. The boycott is based on anti-Semitism not politics (evidence: there are many other occupations in the world, including the middle East). The comments drawing some kind of policy between Israeli policies and this policy were also markedly stupid. Good job assisting this stupid jihad.

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