BA says sorry to black family

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The Independent Online

British Airways last night apologised unreservedly for covertly photocopying the passport of a British-born black family as they checked in for a transatlantic flight, as revealed in yesterday's Independent.

The airline admitted it had no reason for its action but insisted it would continue to photocopy passports "on the basis of nationality rather than colour".

BA said yesterday it had used subterfuge to obtain the passport and then falsely claimed that photocopying it was a US Federal Aviation Authority requirement.

Bob Ayling, British Airways' group managing director, wrote to Tony Kelly, a probation officer from Birmingham, admitting the incident was "a mistake".

The letter, delivered by hand last night, said:

I was sorry to read the stories in this morning's 'Independent' about what happened when you and your family checked in for the British Airways flight from Birmingham to New York last July. I wanted to let you know as soon as possible what I know of the circumstances which resulted in your passport being photographed.

There was no reason for us to photograph your passports before departure to the United States. British nationals are admitted to the United States under visa and visa waiver systems. What happened was a mistake and I would like to offer you and your family my apologies for what happened.

Mr Ayling wrote that the authorities were aware that airlines photocopied passports, and even encouraged them to do so, rather than face millions of pounds in fines under immigration laws: "If airlines can show the authorities that the passenger did in fact possess immigration documents at the point of embarkation the fines are generally waived. So in cases where passengers are of nationalities, or are travelling in circumstances we believe may give rise to fines under these immigration laws, as a precaution we photocopy the travel documents, including passports ... The authorities in Britain, United States and Canada know we do this, indeed the Canadian authorities actually encourage us to do so."

He said those passengers whose documents were copied were not selected on the basis of their colour "but we do select them by reference to their nationality and the circumstances of their journey".

BA is sending copies of the letter to the Commission for Racial Equality, which is looking into the matter and Bernie Grant MP. Mr Grant said yesterday that he was referring the matter to the Commons' Home Affairs Select Committee.

Mr Kelly said he was glad to receive BA's apology but added: "An apology is all well and good but the issue is still not resolved. BA is going to continue photocopying passports and who are they going to target if not black people?"