Ryanair racism storm highlights that passengers have a duty to look after one another

Plane talk: It’s up to us to call out abusive fellow travellers

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Sunday 28 October 2018 06:35
Delsie Gayle rejects apology from fellow Ryanair passenger David Mesher after 'racist' outburst

We know that Ryanair flight FR15 departed on time from Barcelona airport on Friday 19 October, and landed safely and punctually on time at Stansted. We also know something of what happened in the cabin before departure.

A passenger who we now know to be David Mesher launched into a racist, foul-mouthed tirade against a fellow traveller on the flight, 77-year-old Delsie Gayle. Another passenger, David Lawrence, filmed the outburst on his phone – and it has now been viewed millions of times.

Mrs Gayle and her daughter Carol, who was on the flight, were extremely upset by the vile and threatening outburst.

Some politicians have called for a boycott of Ryanair. They argue that the cabin crew on the flight should clearly have removed the man responsible from the plane, but instead moved Mrs Gayle to another seat.

The implications: either the Irish airline does not train its staff properly, or it tolerates racism. Neither is true.

Ryanair could, though, have put its side of the story forward a lot earlier. Finally, on Friday morning a week after the incident, it explained:

“As the cabin crew believed they were dealing with an argument between two passengers, they followed company procedure, to defuse the argument, and separate the passengers by offering to move one to alternative seating.

“In this case, the female passenger was moved at her request, to a seat adjacent to her daughter who was also travelling on this flight.

“After moving the female passenger, both passengers were asked if they were ‘okay’, and both confirmed that they were. As far as the cabin crew were concerned, that was the end of the matter, and since there was no threat to aircraft safety, the issue of offloading one passenger did not arise.

“The captain was not informed of any argument between the two passengers, and nor were airport security in Barcelona alerted, because as far as the cabin crew were concerned, the verbal argument had been defused.”

In my experience, cabin crew the world over are professionals who have excellent “soft skills” and are generally very good judges of character and behaviour.

Regrettably, they encounter a fair amount of personal abuse in their daily work, and therefore are well tuned to identifying the demeanour of disruptive passengers. Indeed when you are welcomed aboard a plane, the senior cabin crew member is quietly sizing passengers up to identify anyone who might be a problem at altitude.

In cases of disruption when still on the ground, airlines have clear procedures in place – often informed by the very good guidelines provided by the UK Flight Safety Committee.

“Aggressive and threatening behaviour has unfortunately become more common in our society,” they say.

“Although unruly passengers represent only a minute proportion of our passengers as a whole, we must never forget that one aggressive passenger can jeopardise safety on board.”

The committee has set three levels of disruption and prescribes the appropriate response. A Category 1 passenger is: “Aggressive or abusive but possible to influence. Compliance after staff intervention.”

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Category 3 applies in the case of: “Physical violence, threats and other punishable behaviour.”

The video evidence indicates this was clearly a “Category 3” case, calling for the immediate removal of the offender.

But the film suggests the cabin crew were not present for the nastiest parts of the rant. In the absence of other passengers pointing out the racism and threats, it was not unreasonable for them to conclude the offender was “Category 1”: unpleasant but to be tolerated.

When something serious happens on a plane, airline passengers have a duty to look after one another. That includes calling out abusive fellow travellers by informing cabin crew of unacceptable behaviour. And don’t save the video evidence for social media: show it to cabin crew so they can do something about it. This appalling episode will, I hope, remind everyone of that obligation.

Meanwhile, David Mesher will not be allowed on Ryanair again – a relief for those of us who will continue to fly with the airline.

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