Discriminatory Product Differentiation: the Case of Israel’s Omission from Airline Route Maps

Joel Waldfogel (University of Minnesota)
Paul M. Vaaler (University of Minnesota)

Abstract: While product differentiation is generally benign, it can be employed to discriminate against customer groups, either to enhance profitability by appealing to discriminatory customers or in unprofitable ways that indulge owners’ tastes for discrimination. We explore discriminatory product differentiation by international airlines through their depictions of Israel on online route maps and whether their online inflight menus include kosher meal options. We first show that several airlines omit Israel from their online route maps. Three of these airlines are members of major international airline alliances. With data on over 100 airlines, we then document that online route map “denial” of Israel’s existence is more likely for airlines with likely customers from countries exhibiting greater anti-Semitism. Likely owner tastes also matter: denial is more likely for state-owned airlines in countries that do not recognize Israel. Availability of kosher meal options follows similar patterns, suggesting anti-Semitic rather than anti-Zionist motivations. Neither online route map treatment nor ownership by states not recognizing Israel affects the likelihood of alliance membership with alliance leaders having few airline alternatives to choose from in the Middle East.

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