Emirates Airlines’ flying to San Francisco raises issues


San Francisco is rolling out the red carpet for Emirates Airlines, which starting today will be flying nonstop from SFO to Dubai and back three times a week – and the East-West link sure makes for some interesting politics.

The airline, which is run by the government of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, operates by rules far different from those San Francisco espouses.

Take Emirates’ flight attendants, for instance. A recent Wall Street Journal piece on the airline says that “tough rules are enforced, including some that would be deemed discriminatory in the West, such as weight requirements and a no-pregnancy policy for unwed women.”

Further, the paper says: “Openly gay male attendants need not apply. Premarital sex and homosexuality are both illegal in Dubai.”

In San Francisco, however, it’s illegal for contractors doing business with the city to discriminate in employment or in dealing with the public.

And Larry Brinkin, the compliance officer for the city Human Rights Commission, says airline reps, under penalty of perjury, checked off all the boxes on a city form saying they don’t discriminate based on “race, sexual orientation or religion.”

They also submitted documentation showing they comply with the city’s decade-old ordinance guaranteeing benefits to both gays and unmarried couples who register as domestic partners.

“They say they don’t discriminate, and we don’t know otherwise,” Brinkin said.

That might be because the San Francisco law applies only to how companies operate in the United States. In other words, while it affects employees on the ground here – ticket agents and the like – flight attendants who arrive from Dubai apparently are exempt.

“We don’t like it – it’s awful, but we have no jurisdiction outside the U.S.,” Brinkin said.

“It’s called following the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law,” said Assemblyman and former San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, author of the city’s domestic partners ordinance.

And while he’s not happy about it, Ammiano says, the “Muslim world won’t change overnight.”