British Airways is today facing criticism over its handling of a so-called ‘Cyberflashing’ incident in which a couple were sent unsolicited “dick pics” as they sat with their six-year-old daughter on a British Airways aircraft waiting to take off from London Heathrow Airport to Edinburgh. 37-year old Kate O’Sullivan and her partner, Ysolda Teague, 33 called the airline’s response “unacceptable” and have called on British Airways to introduce training to better prepare staff for similar incidents in the future.
Originally picked up by the Huffington Post, Ysolda first brought attention to the incident when she sent a Tweet to the airline’s official Twitter account. “Do you have a policy for staff for what to do when an unknown passenger is harassing passengers by sending dick pics via Airdrop?” she asked the airline just before midday on Monday 5th November.
A short time before, Ysolda and Kate had been settling into their seats and helping their daughter put on her seatbelt when Ysolda received an AirDrop notification on her iPhone for five “dick pics”. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ysolda quickly rejected the notification and then went to tell the cabin crew what had just happened.
“The staff were completely flummoxed, all getting their phones to see if they too had [received] anything,” Kate told the Huff Post. “We weren’t expecting them (British Airways) to fix the problem” she continued, “but we were concerned about the staff response. The staff themselves said to us they felt completely unprepared to deal with the situation.”
Apparently, the cabin crew did offer to both call airport security and inform the Captain, although they cautioned that taking the matter further would obviously delay the flight or involve the family getting off the plane to report the matter to authorities. The response from BA’s Twitter team was slightly less helpful – advising Ysolda that she should have switched her phone to airplane mode. Perhaps not realising that airplane mode wouldn’t necessarily turn off the Bluetooth connectivity that AirDrop relies upon.
So could British Airways have done more? And should cabin crew be trained on how to deal with this particular type of crime?
Well, first things first, let’s make this plainly clear:
- Sexual harassment and assault is never acceptable under any circumstances
- Victims should never be blamed and should always be provided with care and support
- Airlines do have a duty of care towards their customers
- Many airlines should and can do more to help victims of sexual assault and harassment
But how much practical support British Airways and its cabin crew could offer in this situation is debatable. After all, the aircraft was still on the ground – and while rules differ from country to country, it would definitely be up to local law enforcement to handle this incident.
Think of an aircraft cabin like any other public space – Cyberflashing could have happened in the departure lounge or even the train or bus on the way to the airport. A point that a British Airways spokesperson was also quick to make. In those cases, Ysolda and Kate would need to report the matter to police.
We don’t have a policy for this, Ysolda. Once passengers have boarded, their mobile phones should be on airplane mode. This would prevent photos being sent or received via airdrop. 1/2
— British Airways (@British_Airways) November 5, 2018
That’s not to excuse BA’s suggestion that it was somehow Ysolda’s fault for not switching her phone to airplane mode. Victim shaming is never cool and Ysolda herself pointed out that she could have switched off AirDrop notifications from strangers – that’s not the point. The issue is whether BA and any other airline for that matter are taking its duty of care to passengers seriously.
In this incident, it’s good to see that the cabin crew actually took that responsibility seriously and provided as much information so that Ysolda and Kate could make an informed decision. In the end, the couple decided to stay on the aircraft and complete their journey without taking any further action.
“We don’t underestimate how uncomfortable this incident must have made our customer feel, and we’re pleased that our crew were able to offer their support on board,” a British Airways spokesperson told the Huff Post.
“We do not tolerate this type of behaviour and will always support customers if they choose to involve the police. Our intention was to offer some helpful advice, however, we apologise for any offence caused to our customer.”
“As we discussed, sadly this is something that could happen anywhere, not just on board an aircraft. But our crew will always support customers if they choose to involve the police.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.