Aviation: Why Israel will not show on your Airline Flight map

STARING at an airline’s route map can cause the heart to flutter. It seems to divide the world into two distinct groups, between memories and possibilities. But on some carriers’ maps, a third classification exists: the non-existent.

Many airlines’ route maps show every country in the world, regardless of whether they fly there. Those that do not usually illustrate their network by showing only those cities and countries served by the airline. But a few are more selective still, omitting only a single country from their worldview: Israel.

A new paper which is currently under peer review, by Joel Waldfogel and Paul Vaaler, both of the University of Minnesota, looks into the phenomenon. The pair classified 111 of the world’s international airlines depending on how they treat Israel on their online route maps. Outside the Middle East, all dealt with it consistently: either Israel was shown as part of a comprehensive map, or it its inclusion was dependent on whether the airline served the country.

Not so for those based in the Middle East. Here, many airlines simply erase Israel’s name off otherwise comprehensive maps (this is often done by amending a Google map). Examples of such removers include Qatar Airways, one of the big international “super connectors”, as well as smaller carriers including Saudi and Kuwait Airways (screenshot shown above). Others take a different approach. These, in the words of the paper, show “plausible deniability”. Their maps include a selection of countries, including ones not served by the airline, but not the Jewish state. This, say the professors, allows them to argue that they are not singling out Israel by omitting only it.

For example, Israel is one of a number of countries excluded from the route map of another superconnector, Etihad. It does, though, include several others that it also does not fly to, such as Mali, Armenia and Guinea. The carrier says it only highlights countries served either by it or one of its codeshare partners, although Gulliver could find no partner that flies to the aforementioned countries. (The carrier responded that its map needs to be updated. Other than Etihad, none of the airlines contacted replied to requests to explain their position.) Other operators turns the proposition on its head. Egypt Air, for example, does include Israel on its map, but does not let on that it actually flies there. Services from Cairo to Tel Aviv are flown by a specially created subsidiary.

STARING at an airline’s route map can cause the heart to flutter. It seems to divide the world into two distinct groups, between memories and possibilities. But on some carriers’ maps, a third classification exists: the non-existent.

Many airlines’ route maps show every country in the world, regardless of whether they fly there. Those that do not usually illustrate their network by showing only those cities and countries served by the airline. But a few are more selective still, omitting only a single country from their worldview: Israel.

A new paper, which is currently under peer review, by Joel Waldfogel and Paul Vaaler, both of the University of Minnesota, looks into the phenomenon. The pair classified 111 of the world’s international airlines depending on how they treat Israel on their online route maps. Outside the Middle East, all dealt with it consistently: either Israel was shown as part of a comprehensive map, or it its inclusion was dependent on whether the airline served the country.

Not so for those based in the Middle East. Here, many airlines simply erase Israel’s name off otherwise comprehensive maps (this is often done by amending a Google map). Examples of such removers include Qatar Airways, one of the big international “super connectors”, as well as smaller carriers including Saudia and Kuwait Airways (screenshot shown above). Others take a different approach. These, in the words of the paper, show “plausible deniability”. Their maps include a selection of countries, including ones not served by the airline, but not the Jewish state. This, say the professors, allows them to argue that they are not singling out Israel by omitting only it.

For example, Israel is one of a number of countries excluded from the route map of another super-connector, Etihad. It does, though, include several others that it also does not fly to, such as Mali, Armenia and Guinea. The carrier says it only highlights countries served either by it or one of its codeshare partners, although Gulliver could find no partner that flies to the aforementioned countries. (The carrier responded that its map needs to be updated. Other than Etihad, none of the airlines contacted replied to requests to explain their position.) Other operators turns the proposition on its head. Egypt Air, for example, does include Israel on its map, but does not let on that it actually flies there. Services from Cairo to Tel Aviv are flown by a specially created subsidiary.

Why do airlines choose to tinker with their maps in this way? Many of the carriers in question are majority-owned by the state, and many of those states, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, do not recognise Israel. Some, though, may also be pandering to the preferences of their customers. Although many airlines in the region do not accept passengers with Israeli passports, none explicitly bars Jews. However, the professors devised a weighted index that combines the share of enquiries for airlines from different countries (based on Google searches) and a measure of anti-Semitism in those countries (as gauged by an index produced by the Anti-Defamation League, a civil-rights organisation). They also looked at whether the carriers offer a kosher food option.

Kuwait Airlines, for example, lists 17 special meal options on its website, ranging from “bland” to “vegetarian oriental” to “Jain”, but nothing to cater to observant Jews. A correlation emerged between an airline’s removal of Israel from maps, its lack of a kosher food option for passengers, and the likely prevalence of anti-Semitism among its customers. (Again, it should be pointed out that the professors’ methods and conclusions are still being reviewed by peers.)

All of which implies that these airlines’ customers may be happy with the status quo. It also suggests there is no great business imperative for Middle Eastern carriers to alter their treatment of Israel. Including Israel on maps may seem an insignificant concession but, argues Mr Vaaler, it would not go unnoticed. Conversations with some of his Arabic law students convinced him that many would find it an affront.

What is more, removing the country does not seem to be putting off international partners. Air France, for example, codehares with Saudia. Meanwhile Delta, the world’s largest carrier, lists Saudia as one of its codeshare partners on its “professional” site, though not on its customer-facing one. (Delta did not answer a request for clarification.) And despite criticism from Jewish groups, in 2012 Saudia and Middle East Airlines of Lebanon, another Israel remover, joined Sky Team, the alliance led by Delta.

A map has always had meaning beyond mere cartography. It “does not just chart,” wrote Rief Larsen, “it unlocks and formulates meaning.” For some airlines, that meaning is open to interpretation.

Source: economics.com

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