British Airways’ tough weekend in the UK newspapers

Coincidentally it would seem, British Airways found itself front page news – not in a good way – on both Saturday and Sunday this last weekend. Quite odd stories in both cases.

On Saturday the ever-so-serious Independent reported the allegations of 777 captain Doug Maughan claiming that casual racism is rife at the airline, mainly among “middle-aged pilots”. It called on the company’s management to investigate.

Then the next day the much less serious Sunday Mirror reported the alleged lousy treatment by BA of Capt Peter Burkill – the captain of the 777 that crash-landed short of the runway at Heathrow in January and who was widely lauded as a hero.Both stories are worth examining. For the Indy this is not virgin territory. Last week it went big on an incident which has led to quite serious trouble for the airline in Nigeria following the way it handled an on-board incident at Heathrow. Star writer Robert Fisk wrote a fairly epic editorial on that incident the same day as the racism story was run. Whether that justifies running a single person’s allegations of racism is debatable I think. Just for the record, Capt Maughan has an Asian wife and is politically active in the left-wing Labour Party in his native Scotland. (I also suspect he’s the same Doug Maughan who was on my basic flying training course in the RAF – but I don’t know for sure. You out there Doug???)

The Sunday Mirror story is not a bad tale if true. But is it? Frankly, as an ex-tabloid hack myself, I’d have to say that if Capt Burkill is grievously unhappy about the way he was treated then that’s fair game. After all BA effectively painted him as a hero immediately after the accident.

But there are two sides to any story. If he’s grievously unhappy but his dissatisfaction is unjustified then the story’s still fair game, but it may not reflect badly on BA. As you’d imagine, both stories are being enthusiastically discussed on Pprune. The Burkill story is getting a going over here, where by no means all contributors are sympathetic, and some question the facts. And the Maughan material is getting fewer views but more comments here, with very little sympathy at all for him or the Indy.

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