Protestors supporting the Extinction Rebellion movement have descended on London City Airport in the British capital’s East End in an attempt to “peacefully occupy and shut down” the airport for three full days. So far, despite the best efforts of protestors, the airport is continuing to run a pretty normal schedule – although there have been a couple of high-profile incidents which have briefly interrupted operations.
First off, one protestor who had bought a ticket (and it’s important to note, went through standard security screening) stood up during the safety briefing of a soon to depart Aer Lingus flight. Despite the best attempts of cabin crew, the protestor refused to take his seat, forcing the aircraft return to the gate.
— Warren Swalbe (@wazzas) October 10, 2019
The man was arrested – presumably for failing to comply with crew member instructions – and after a short delay, the flight was on its way with at least one spare seat (not a great way to save the environment).
A couple of hours later, a second protestor managed to climb on top of a British Airways aircraft that was preparing to depart for the short hop to Amsterdam. The man, who is said to be former Paralympic medal winner, allegedly glued his hand to the plane but was successfully removed by police. Again, the protestor had bought a ticket for the flight and had been subjected to security screening.
The suspect was also arrested in connection with an alleged plot to disrupt London’s Heathrow Airport by flying drones in restricted airspace last month.
Extinction Rebellion has referred to their attempted mass sit-in at London City Airport as a “Hong Kong-style occupation” – which quite frankly is an insult to the thousands of Hong Kongers who are fighting for universal suffrage.
“Hundreds of participants have already signed up to nonviolently use their bodies to close the airport, and are willing to sacrifice their liberty to achieve this aim,” the protest group claimed in a statement.
“Protesters state that air travel, the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions, is both inherently unsustainable and unfair since 30% of the UK’s population take 70% of its flights and over 82% of people in the world have never flown, the statement continued.
“The vast majority of the flights in and out of City Airport are business trips of the elite, yet the catastrophic effects will be felt disproportionately by poorer people, both within the UK and around the world.”
What direct action protestors failed to obviously realise though is that British Airways and Aer Lingus have today committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Over the next 20-years, the parent group of the two airlines says it will spend $400 million on developing sustainable aviation fuels and $27 billion on new planes that are 25 per cent cleaner than its current aircraft fleet.
The airline group is the first in the world to commit to such an ambitious carbon emission target which is in line with United Nation targets.
As far as publicity stunts, this is a huge fail for Extinction Rebellion.
At current levels, aviation accounts for 2 per cent of global carbon emissions – if every airline follows the lead of airlines like British Airways and Aer Lingus then that figure can be reduced even further.
“A number of protesters remain outside the front of the airport terminal and we are working hard with the Metropolitan Police to minimise disruption to passengers,” a spokesperson for London City Airport said this afternoon, confirming that the protestor aloft the British Airways plane had been removed and that an investigation was being carried out.
Earlier, the airport said the “climate change challenge” is a “matter for everyone”.
“We are committed to playing our part in achieving realistic plans to rapidly decarbonise. London City Airport has already reduced emissions by 30% over five years and we are committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, as well as working with partners on initiatives that will significantly reduce overall emissions related to aviation,” the spokesperson explained.
The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that a “number of people” have so far been arrested for protesting at London City Airport. The police force said it would deal with protestors “robustly but proportinately”.
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.