(Recasts with details from more airlines)
By Alexander Cornwell
DUBAI Feb 4 Citizens of seven mainly Muslim
countries banned from the United States by President Donald
Trump can resume boarding U.S.-bound flights, several major
airlines said on Saturday, after a Seattle judge blocked the
Qatar Airways was the first to say it would allow passengers
from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to fly
to U.S. cities if they had valid documents.
Air France, Spain's Iberia and Germany's Lufthansa all
followed suit after the federal judge's ruling, which the White
House said it planned to appeal as soon as possible.
But the websites of two other major Gulf airlines, Etihad
and Emirates, still carried notices informing passengers of
Trump's original Jan. 27 order.
The travel ban, which Trump says is needed to protect the
United States against Islamist militants, sparked travel chaos
around the world and condemnation by rights groups who said it
was racist and discriminatory.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection told airlines they could
board travelers affected within hours of Friday's ruling, but
budget airline Norwegian, which operates transatlantic flights
including from London and Oslo, said many uncertainties remained
about the legal position.
"It's still very unclear," spokeswoman Charlotte Holmbergh
Jacobsson said. "We advise passengers to contact the U.S.
embassy ... We have to follow the U.S. rules."
In Cairo, aviation sources said Egypt Air and other airlines
had told their sales offices of Friday's ruling and would allow
people previously affected by the ban to book flights.
But for some who had changed their travel plans following
the ban, the order was not enough reassurance.
In Dubai, Tariq Laham, 32, and his Polish fiancee Natalia
had scrapped plans to travel to the United States after they get
married in July in Poland. Laham said the couple would not
reverse their decision.
"It is just too risky," said Laham, a Syrian who works as a
director of commercial operations at a multinational technology
company. "Every day you wake up and there is a new decision."
Trump's order caused chaos at airports across the United
States last week. Virtually all refugees were also barred,
upending the lives of thousands of people who had spent years
seeking asylum in the U.S.
The State Department said on Friday that almost 60,000 visas
were suspended following Trump's order. It was not clear whether
that suspension was automatically revoked or what reception
travelers with such visas might get at U.S. airports.
The Washington state lawsuit was the first to test the broad
constitutionality of Trump's executive order. Judge James
Robart, a George W. Bush appointee, explicitly made his ruling
apply across the country, while other judges in similar cases
have so far issued orders concerning only specific individuals.
The challenge in Seattle was brought by the state of
Washington and later joined by the state of Minnesota. The judge
ruled that the states have legal standing to sue, which could
help Democratic attorneys general take on Trump in court on
issues beyond immigration.
Washington's case was based on claims that the state had
suffered harm from the travel ban, for example students and
faculty at state-funded universities being stranded overseas.
Amazon.com and Expedia, both based in
Washington state, had supported the lawsuit, asserting that the
travel restrictions harmed their businesses.
Tech companies, which rely on talent from around the world,
have been increasingly outspoken in their opposition to the
Trump administration's anti-immigrant policies.
Judge Robart probed a Justice Department lawyer on what he
called the "litany of harms" suffered by Washington state's
universities, and also questioned the use of the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks on the United States as a justification for the ban.
Robart said no attacks had been carried out on U.S. soil by
individuals from the seven countries affected by the travel ban
since that assault. For Trump's order to be constitutional,
Robart said, it had to be "based in fact, as opposed to
The White House said in a statement: "At the earliest
possible time, the Department of Justice intends to file an
emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive
order of the president, which we believe is lawful and
It added: "The president's order is intended to protect the
homeland and he has the constitutional authority and
responsibility to protect the American people."
Washington Governor Jay Inslee celebrated the decision as a
victory for the state, adding: "No person - not even the
president - is above the law."
The judge's decision was welcomed by groups protesting the
"This order demonstrates that federal judges throughout the
country are seeing the serious constitutional problems with this
order," said Nicholas Espiritu, a staff attorney at the National
Immigration Law Center.
But the fluid legal situation was illustrated by the fact
that Robart's ruling came just hours after a federal judge in
Boston declined to extend a temporary restraining order allowing
some immigrants into the United States from countries affected
by Trump's three-month ban.
A Reuters poll earlier this week indicated that the
immigration ban has popular support, with 49 percent of
Americans agreeing with the order and 41 percent disagreeing.
Some 53 percent of Democrats said they "strongly disagree" with
Trump's action while 51 percent of Republicans said they
At least one company, the ride-hailing giant Uber, was
moving quickly Friday night to take advantage of the ruling.
CEO Travis Kalanick, who quit Trump's business advisory
council this week in the face of a fierce backlash from Uber
customers and the company's many immigrant drivers, said on
Twitter: "I just chatted with our head of litigation Angela,
who's buying a whole bunch of airline tickets ASAP!! #homecoming
(Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo, Dan Levine in
Seattle, Scott Malone in Boston, Georgina Prodhan in Frankfurt,
Laurence Frost in Paris, Asma Alsharif in Cairo, Jesus Aguado in
Madrid, Mica Rosenberg in New York, Brian Snyder in Boston and
Lawrence Hurley, Lesley Wroughton, Julia Edwards and Susan
Heavey in Washington, Tom Arnold and Alexander Cornwell in
Dubai; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Alexander Smith)