It's a Smaller World

Bringing homo-hating, anti-Semitic Saudis into an airline alliance is no cause for alarm

Mark my words: I’ll never be visiting Saudi Arabia. Unless of course I’m invited to take part in some debate I’ll hypothetically title, ”Homosexuality: Gift from God or Lower than Pus?” with a guarantee from the Saudis that I won’t be jailed for blasphemy or being gay. But I’m glad that the country’s flag carrier, Saudi Arabian Airlines, is joining Sky Team, as the alliance announced Jan. 11.

Sky Team is the airline alliance of Delta Air Lines, Air France, Aeroflot, KLM Royal Dutch and quite a few others. But the move is not without controversy. According to the right-wing World Net Daily news site, former GOP Rep. Fred Grandy is taking the issue to Congress and talk radio. Grandy certainly has insight into travel issues, having portrayed ”Gopher,” the lovable purser on The Love Boat for years. (And a special happy birthday wish to him, as he and I share June 29 birthdays!) One might think that this is just between Grandy and his windmill, but the American Center for Law and Justice has joined the party on the right.

”Late last week, we reported to you about the troubling business alliance between Delta Air Lines and Saudi Arabian Airlines, which is owned by the Saudi government – a government that embraces discriminatory policies targeting religion, ethnicity, and gender,” an ACLJ June 27 release reads, in part. What? And the Saudis don’t discriminate against my gay ass too? I think capital punishment qualifies.

The claim here is that Delta will have to adopt the Saudi airline’s policies in some way, meaning barring Jews and people with Israeli passports or Israeli passport stamps from boarding Delta flights to Saudi Arabia. Then again, Delta doesn’t fly to Saudi Arabia. And the Saudi embassy here in D.C. has released a statement clarifying that no American is banned from entering the country because of his religion. They made no mention of the other passport issues raised, or that non-Islamic religious articles – read Bibles – are banned in the wacky and oil-rich kingdom.

But the alarm isn’t coming just from the right. Over on the left-leaning Huffington Post, Rabbi Jason Miller ran a column that included this sentence: ”While I’m not planning a vacation to Riyadh anytime soon, I would have a hard time flying with Delta knowing they are collaborating with the discriminatory government of Saudi Arabia.”

That leaves me wondering whether the rabbi worries about Kenya Airways already being a member of Sky Team, in that they fly into notoriously homophobic Uganda.

I have to believe that this curious concern is just an opportunity to put Saudi Arabia’s awful policies in the spotlight. Fine. It’s an awful country for just about anyone. But why stop at Delta? Why not protest Dulles International Airport and JFK Airport for already allowing Saudi Arabian Airlines to fly into those airports? Why not boycott gas stations for allowing Saudi oil in their brew? Go protest the Pentagon for its record weapons sale to the Saudis.

Maybe I’m the one missing the point. Maybe I should be protesting at BWI for allowing Air Jamaica to fly there, considering the 42 assaults on LGBT people recorded in Jamaica so far this year.

Of course, I won’t do that. Because like Saudi flying to D.C. or Lufthansa flying to Iran, I think these sorts of global networks make the world more integrated and that that’s a good thing. Looking at the Sky Team site, with its celebrity airport-orientation videos – Look, it’s Pam Ann at Heathrow! Gay fashionista Richard Chai tours Incheon! – it’s the Saudis who have more to fear from us than we do from them. Saudi Arabian Airlines’ entry into a global alliance will do more to change Saudi Arabia for the better than it will to hurt us in any way whatsoever.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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