A disgraced Virgin Atlantic pilot who was sacked by the airline for his alleged underperformance during simulator training has won an £89,000 compensation payout for unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.
Captain Mike Lawson had claimed that the airline engineered his dismissal following an eventful flight in which two other pilots came down with a nasty stomach bug and Captain Lawson was accused of falling asleep at the wheel.
Although Captain Lawson sued Virgin Atlantic for £1.7 million, the employment tribunal awarded the maximum available payout. Captain Lawson has struggled to find a job as a pilot since he was sacked by Virgin Atlantic and has been forced to sell his homes in the UK and France in order to support his family.
The court was told how Virgin Atlantic allegedly harboured a grudge against Captain Lawson for nearly two years after the Hong Kong flight in which his judgement was called into question.
Several hours into the September 2015 flight, the two other pilots on the flight came down with a stomach bug that they believed they had caught from a recent trip to Delhi, India.
As is standard on ultra-long-haul flights, one of the pilots went for a break leaving Captain Lawson and the other First Officer on the flight deck. But around an hour later, the First Officer had to be ‘relieve’ himself because he urgently needed to go to the toilet.
Unfortunately, the pilot “didn’t make it in time”, and cabin crew found the pilot slumped over a crew seat.
By this point, Captain Lawson was the only fit pilot on the plane, but rather than diverting the aircraft, he took the decision to continue onwards to Hong Kong.
Captain Lawson explained his rationale, saying the only alternative airfields close by were in extremely isolated areas of Russia which should only be used in the event of a dire emergency. The Captain was highly experienced in flying the Hong Kong route so decided to continue onwards.
But soon after the flight, rumours started to be swirl around the company. It was claimed Captain Lawson had a nap in the flight deck while he was alone and managers decided to stand him down from flying duties for a short time.
Several months later, Captain Lawson underwent simulator training which he failed. It was the first time he had ever failed a simulator test, and he believes the trainers deliberately created a scenario that he would fail.
Nearly a year later, Captain Lawson went off sick, and a couple of months later, he was sacked. During the tribunal, lawyers representing Virgin Atlantic claimed the airline “held long-standing concerns” about Captain Lawson’s performance but failed to present any documentary proof to back up those claims.
The employment tribunal ruled that allegations of poor performance made against Captain Lawson were unsubstantiated. Despite the win, the tribunal decided that Captain Lawson would not be granted the right to get his old job back.
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.