Earlier this year, British Airways launched a multi-million-pound advertising campaign to celebrate the airline’s centenary. Described as a “love letter to Britain”, the campaign featured a whole host of homegrown celebrities including Oscar winners Gary Oldman and Olivia Colman, the singer-songwriter Paloma Faith and sports stars such as Anthony Joshua and Ellie Simmonds.
The airline said the advert displayed a snapshot of modern Britain and as part of a larger brand campaign, 100 celebrities and staffers recounted the values that they feel makes Britain such a special place in a series of “Dear Britain” love letters.
But now, one activist group and many of its supporters are sending their own letters straight back to British Airways demanding the airline stop accepting forced deportations on its flights. Hundreds of people have publicly backed the campaign, with the #DearBA hashtag trending on Twitter.
The Lesbian & Gays Support the Migrants (LGSM) pressure group has compiled its own series of 100 letters, including from lawmakers and even a former employee of the airline, asking British Airways to reconsider its stance and end its contract with the Home Office – the government agency that handles deportations.
The same activist group has long campaigned against BA’s acceptance of forced deportations on its flights. Earlier this summer, a campaigner from the group stormed the stage during a speech by the airline’s chief executive, while last year a gorilla advertising campaign on the London Tube went viral.
“British Airways are quite clearly putting profits before the emotional welfare of its staff and customers,” a former member of British Airways cabin crew said in one letter.
“Most importantly it is putting profits before the dignity and humanity of those in need,” the letter continues. The crew member decided to leave the airline because of its stance on forced deportations.
“How can a company as established as British Airways allow their employees to have no choice but to aid this abhorrent and dysfunctional process? British Airways claims to be an inclusive employer which upholds so called British values. I would like to ask them what are these so called British values they are upholding and who exactly are they benefiting?”
Interestingly, fellow British airline Virgin Atlantic announced last year that it would no longer accept forced deportations saying it was “in the best interest of our customers and people” after a similar campaign from the same group. But British Airways says it can’t just simply end its contract with the Home Office because it’s legally bound to accept involuntary deportees.
“We are in the same position as all other airlines. It is a legal requirement (Immigration Act 1971) for all airlines to deport people when asked to do so by the Home Office. Not fulfilling this obligation amounts to breaking the law,” the airline said in a statement.
“Airlines only have the right to refuse deportees on the basis that they feel there is a threat to the safety or security of the aircraft and its passengers.”
“We are not given any personal information about the individual being deported, including their sexuality, or why they are being deported. The process we follow is a full risk assessment, with the Home Office, which considers the safety of the individual, our customers, and crew on the flight.”
This isn’t necessarily a debate on whether Britain should be a more welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers (that’s a matter for politicians) but whether commercial flights are the right place to stage forced deportations. In one case, a refugee died on a British Airways flight while being restrained by guards – a member of cabin crew was forced to medically retire because they were so impacted by what they witnessed.
For now, however, it looks like British Airways will continue accepting forced deportations. We’ve reached out to the Home Office for comment on this policy but had not received a reply at the time of publication.