August 27, 2015
Special Reports Uncategorized

ZOA: Is American Airlines Canceling US Flights to Israel Due to Arab Pressure?

 
August 25, 2015
 
VIA EMAIL AND FIRST-CLASS  MAIL
 
Mr. Doug Parker
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
American Airlines
4333 Amon Carter Boulevard
Fort Worth, TX  76155
 
Dear Mr. Parker:
 
            We write on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest and one of the largest pro-Israel organizations in the U.S., whose mission includes fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias.  We were troubled to learn that American Airlines recently decided to stop flying to Israel.  According to media reports, American will terminate its Philadelphia-Tel Aviv flight – the airline’s only route to Israel – in January.  Industry officials have strongly suggested that American’s decision is political, based on its ties to Arab airlines through its membership in the OneWorld global alliance.  Arab carriers, such as Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian, are part of this alliance, as is the carrier of the Muslim-majority country of Malaysia.  
 
American Airlines claims that its only flight to Israel is being cancelled because the flight is losing money.  But industry officials have challenged the truth of this claim, one source explicitly stating that “profitability wasn’t a problem.”  The source explained, “The past year hasn’t been easy for the airline industry in general, but that’s far from saying that the route wasn’t profitable.  No one would have operated a money-losing route for so many years.” 
(See http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/economy/83170-150824-american-world-s-largest-airline-stopping-flight-to-israel.)  Indeed, the media reported that based on the figures provided by the Israel Airport Authority, the number of passengers on American’s flight to Israel this year has increased, not decreased, as compared to this time last year.
 
It is difficult not to see the airline’s conduct as showing a lack of respect and regard for its relationship with Israel and for its customers who travel there.
Our informal observations support this assessment and cast doubt on American’s claim that its decision to stop flying to Israel was motivated by financial concerns.   One of the undersigned, ZOA National President Morton Klein, lives in Philadelphia and frequently flies to Israel.  But Mr. Klein has sometimes had trouble arranging a flight there on American Airlines.  On a number of occasions, when he has tried to make a reservation well in advance of his departure date, the flights have already been filled.  When he has been able to fly on American, he observed the flight to be full.  In fact, there were a number of times (including this past July), when Mr. Klein could not get a seat in business class and had to fly coach instead.
 
We assume that American Airlines does not want the termination of its only flight to Israel to be interpreted as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.  It is difficult not to see the airline’s conduct as showing a lack of respect and regard for its relationship with Israel and for its customers who travel there.  Reportedly, American Airlines did not even inform Israeli officials about its plan to shut down its flight to Israel before publicly announcing the plan.  Moreover, customers who had arranged to fly to and from Israel on American Airlines after the final flight dates in January will now suffer the inconvenience of having to arrange alternative flights. 
 
Was American Airlines threatened or pressured to discontinue its one flight to Israel?  This seemingly abrupt decision is a far cry from American’s position after it merged with US Airways not even two years ago.  US Airways had already been flying to Israel since 2009.  After the merger, American reportedly sent a team of executives to Israel where they pledged to expand the route and add other U.S. destinations.
 
We urge you to reverse American’s decision and reinstate its one and only route to Israel.  You will continue to earn the goodwill and continued patronage of your customers who fly to Israel and elsewhere, and you will avoid the taint of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism that is unfortunately simmering now.  In addition, continuing the flight to Israel should help, not hurt American financially.  We understand that the mayor of Philadelphia has also urged American to reverse its decision, noting that the city is working to develop its economic ties with Israeli companies.  This should result in increased travel to and from Israel – which means increased business for American Airlines.
 
There are federal anti-boycott laws that you should also consider, specifically the anti-boycott provisions of the Export Administration Act which in essence prohibit any United States person (including companies) from complying with a boycott imposed or fostered by a foreign country against a country friendly to the United States – which includes our ally, Israel.  The penalties for violating the law include criminal penalties.  We intend to look into whether this matter should be reported to the Office of Antiboycott Compliance, which is charged with enforcing the laws.    
 
Please let us hear from you at your earliest convenience.  We would hate to have to encourage our membership (we have chapters around the country and an office in Israel, and our Philadelphia chapter is our most active in the nation) to fly another airline whenever traveling because of the perception that American Airlines is hostile to Israel, and/or that the airline values its relationships with its Arab airline partners at the expense of its relationship with Israel and its customers who fly there, many of whom are Jewish.
 
Very truly yours,