By: Caroline Cohn, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Washington, DC - A number of online travel agencies have discontinued booking flights to or from Iran, citing broad sanctions restrictions against the country. Searching for a flight to Iran on Orbitz’s site, for example, retrieves the error message: “Flights to/from Iran aren’t supported by Orbitz. Sorry! Please choose another location.”
The National Iranian American Council has contacted the top executives at each of the seven companies - Orbitz, Priceline, Expedia, Tripadvisor, Cheaptickets, Hotwire, and Kayak - to clarify that U.S. sanctions on Iran do not prohibit the advertisement or sale of airfare and to urge the companies to resume allowing users to book flights to and from Iran. NIAC has offered to assist the companies as they attempt to rectify their error.
In a response to NIAC, one of the companies explained in a letter that the company does not offer travel sales related to Iran due to complications created by sanctions. "Based on the compliance requirements and our status as a publicly-traded company, we believe that it is the best solution for our company and our obligations to our shareholders," wrote the Vice President for Corporate Affairs for Orbitz Worldwide, adding that the company "look[s] forward to a day when these restrictions are eliminated."
The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which is the government agency responsible for administering and enforcing U.S. sanctions, has made clear that “transactions incident to travel to and from any country,” as well as “arrangement or facilities of such travel,” are authorized under U.S. law. However, similar to the difficulty in facilitating medicine sales and other services technically exempted from sanctions, the chilling effect of broad sanctions have convinced some travel websites to opt out of any dealings involving Iran. According to Sanction Law, an online resource and blog about U.S. sanctions,“the refusal of these sites to book travel to and from Iran despite the exemptions contained within the regulations is indicative of how U.S. sanctions on Iran can have myriad unintended consequences.”
The spread of such practices is particularly problematic for Iranian Americans, given that the current U.S.-Iran relationship already makes arranging travel to and from Iran a lengthy and often difficult process. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian Americans visit Iran each year, according to polling data, and have faced increasing obstacles in facilitating such travel as sanctions escalate.
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