Internationally, our members are seeing an increase in deportation activity due to changes in immigration and refugee policies. In many cases, the policy changes that have led to this increase are hugely controversial and are accompanied by a rise in protest and other disruptive activity on flights.
Cabin crew and ground staff directly experience the effects of this increase in deportation and associated protest activity. They are put in a position of having to negotiate between protestors and security staff accompanying deportees while maintaining the safety of all passengers and crew. In many cases, airline and airport workers must carry out this role despite struggling with their own opposition to the process.
ITF is particularly concerned about reports of ongoing trauma suffered by workers as a result of working on flights carrying deportees. In some cases, this trauma has been caused by witnessing the death of deportees on commercial flights.
For example, in 2015 Louise Graham, a former flight attendant, sued her ex-employer British Airways after witnessing the death of a passenger who was 'fatally restrained’ by G4S security guards in 2010. The passenger, Jimmy Mubenga, was being deported to Angola. Ms Graham lost her career due to psychiatric trauma from the event.
Escalating protest activity and resistance from deportees themselves also represents a risk to other passengers on commercial flights and in airports. Between January and September 2017, at least 222 commercial flights carrying forced deportations were stopped due to pilots’ concerns for the safety of passengers and crew.
While the pilots were complying with international airline safety laws, ITF believes that these decisions should not be left to pilots to make on a case-by-case basis – particularly when the decisions are highly politicised and the subject of escalating tension.
Commercial airlines must take greater responsibility for the safety of their crew and passengers and refuse to assist in forced deportations.