Boycott British Airways and Protest Rampant Racism at the Airline
'A world of casual racism' exposed at British Airways
By Andy M Smith
Senior BA pilot exposes shocking cockpit culture of Britain's flag
carrier senior British Airways pilot reveals today the startling levels
of casual racism in the flagship UK company, which once famously claimed to
be "the world's favourite airline".
Captain Doug Maughan, who has
28 years' flying experience, including 15 years with BA, says that
derogatory remarks about race by his colleagues are so common they are
treated as normal. Mr Maughan, a serving pilot who captains BA aircraft to
all parts of the world, has decided to go public with his complaints after
struggling to persuade BA's management to take racism among its senior staff
seriously. He has complained by email to BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh,
but says no action was taken. His allegations are an acute embarrassment for
the airline which carries 36 million passengers a year; operates out of
airports in every continent; and could plausibly claim to be one of
Britain's most high-profile companies. The airline is already threatened
with a boycott by Nigerians flying to and from the UK.
Mr Maughan alleges that racism is a "generational" problem – common among
middle-aged pilots, but rare among younger pilots.
He lodged his first complaint after hearing a senior training captain use
the word "coon" during a training session on a flight simulator – but says
that no action was taken.
"There was the time when we set off for Los Angeles with a large party of
Saudis on board, who had joined us at Heathrow direct from the VIP lounge,"
he added. "In the cruise, my captain suddenly embarked on an extraordinary
rant about 'rag-heads'. He got the word out twice before I stopped him by
explaining he was going to be short of a first officer for the return sector
if he carried on."
Mr Maughan, who lives in Dunblane, Perthshire, was on another flight when
a fellow flight officer complained that there were too many Asians in
Britain. "The captain turned to me and said: 'I don't suppose there are many
of them up your way.' I replied: 'Well, there's my wife.' After that, they
had the decency to fall silent," he said.
He has also complained about abusive emails sent to him by a fellow
pilot, who is English. One of the emails said: "Come separation, will all
Jocks F. off to that Welfare State (paid for by English middle classes)???
Please say yes."
Mr Maughan, 53, is so exasperated by what he sees as BA management's
refusal to tackle the problem that he is planning a protest at this year's
annual shareholders' meeting. "It's what I'd call a canteen culture," he
said. "It seems to be accepted that people are going to make racist remarks
and get away with it. The phrase 'institutional racism' has been so
over-used as to be almost worthless, but I have to say that racism is as
prevalent now in BA as it was in the RAF 25 years ago.
"What is common among white flying crew in BA is the use of mildly
derogatory, sometimes jokey, language about other races, mainly aimed at
black and Asian groups. Because it's so common, it's hard to tackle: it's
... the norm and rarely even noticed."
BA said: "All British Airways employees must adhere to our policies
concerning dignity at work. Under these policies we encourage employees to
report incidences of racism, sexism or any other behaviour that they deem
offensive or inappropriate. Any reports of such behaviour are taken
extremely seriously and investigated as a matter of priority. Captain
Maughan has a duty as an employee to provide details of any alleged
inappropriate behaviour direct to the airline."
Mr Maughan's revelations come as BA's treatment of Nigerian passengers
threatens to have diplomatic repercussions. Robert Dewar, the British high
commissioner to Nigeria, has been summoned to the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs to be warned that Nigeria expects its citizens to be treated with
"dignity". And a meeting between BA representatives and the director general
of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, Harold Demuren, broke up when Dr
Demuren objected that BA had slighted him by sending junior managers.
Nigeria's President, Umaru Yar'Adua, has ordered an investigation into an
incident at Heathrow in which 136 passengers were turned off a BA flight to
Lagos. It developed as immigration officers and BA staff were trying to
force a man who was being deported to stay on board against his will. The
deportee, Augustine Eme, is a member of Massob, a banned organisation in
Nigeria campaigning for independence for the region of Biafra.
A fellow passenger, Ayodeji Omotade, from Chatham, objected to Mr Eme's
treatment and was arrested. Mr Omotade's arrest triggered more protests,
until the BA captain ordered every passenger in economy class off the plane.
BA has defended the decision to empty the aircraft saying that it was
legally obliged to carry passengers such as Mr Eme. It said a large number
of passengers on flight BA75 on 27 March became disruptive; that it was not
possible to pinpoint which ones were involved; and that the police and crew
agreed it could pose a safety risk to allow them to stay on board.
BA's other troubles
BA's biggest disaster in recent years was the botched opening of Heathrow
Terminal 5 on 27 March. More than 500 flights were cancelled after a hi-tech
baggage handlinge system malfunctioned. The fiasco cost the airline £16m,
and, combined with rising oil prices, caused its share price to fall to its
lowest level in four years. Chief executive Willie Walsh resisted calls for
In August 2005, the catering firm Gate Gourmet, which wanted redundancies
among its full-time staff, brought in 130 temporary staff to handle the
holiday workload. The firm's 600 staff went out on unofficial strike, and
were sacked. About 1,000 BA staff walked out in sympathy.As a result, 900
flights were grounded and BA lost £45m.
BA was threatened with a boycott by protesting Christians, after Nadia
Eweida, a check-in worker, was suspended for refusing to remove her crucifix
© 2008 independent.co.uk