A British Airways passenger has described how she helped to stop the forced deportation of a Jamaican citizen during a recent flight from London Gatwick to Kingston, Jamaica.
Helen Gaffey described in a lengthy thread on social media platform X how she and several other passengers disobeyed crew member instructions and refused to sit down as the plane was taxiing for takeoff.
In the end, British Airways flight BA2263 on November 10 departed London nearly three hours late after the deportee and his security escort were removed from the Boeing 777, although it might not have been all Helen’s doing.
In fact, Helen admits that she eventually sat down in her seat after one of the cabin crew threatened to have her “kicked off” if she didn’t strap herself in for takeoff.
The man who was being deported has reportedly lived in the United Kingdom since he was four years old and was being physically restrained by six security guards at the back of the aircraft.
Helen says her first reaction was to start crying when a BA employee confirmed that a deportee was going to be on her flight before she called the Detection Action human rights charity to ask for advice.
Once she reached her seat close to the deportee, Helen says she noticed a lot of commotion as the man was shouting out in pain.
“At this point I explained to my fellow passengers that this man was being deported. There were some that shared a feeling of injustice that this was happening, and we were vocal about that. I felt hopeful at this point because I had allies,” Helen said on X.
“The BA staff were keen for us to sit down and stop talking about it. So, We stayed standing. The aircraft is not allowed to take off whilst people are standing. So we did that. Eventually, it was just me and an older Black man in the row behind me who were stood up.”
After being told that she faced being booted from the flight, however, Helen eventually sat down.
“I felt incredibly cowardly at this point because I had but my own wish to travel on the plane to visit my friend, over the possibility of this man not having to be deported,” Helen said.
Still, Helen challenged the cabin crew and asked if they felt it was a good idea to have a person being physically restrained on a nine-hour flight. The cabin crew reportedly told Helen not to concern herself with what was going on.
By this point, the other passengers seemed more keen on getting to Jamaica rather than preventing a deportation, but eventually, the Captain announced over the intercom that the plane was returning to the gate due to a ‘disruption’.
The man was led off the aircraft, although Helen hit out at British Airways employees for seemingly not having an issue with people being deported on the airline’s flights.
“Why don’t British Airways staff see any of this as their problem?,” Helen asked. “Why don’t they press their management to boycott deportation flights? Human rights violations aside, it causes disruption to the flight and therefore negative experiences for all onboard”.
In 2018, Virgin Atlantic announced that it would no longer accept forced deportations, saying it was “in the best interest of our customers and people” 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.
British Airways has not responded to a request for comment on the latest incident but in 2019, a spokesperson told us: “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.”
“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,” the statement continued.
In 2015, Jimmy Mubenga, suffocated to death after being restrained by accompanying security staff onboard a British Airways flight while he was being deported.
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.