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Hong Kong detainment of British Airways (BA) cabin crew


What does the recent Hong Kong detainment of a BA cabin crew mean for airline crews from around the world? The highly sought after lifestyle of working for an airline sometimes comes with unpleasant surprises. The former flight attendant turned author Simon Marton offers his opinion.

This video shows how hazmat-suited officials detain the British Airways cabin crew in Hong Kong. YouTube.

BA cabin crew team member tests positive for COVID-19

Human rights or not, when in Rome…or Hong Kong… be prepared to respect local customs.

A story was reported in the UK press which found its way quickly onto social media, which is where yours truly discovered it. I have a built-in filter, almost as good as Excel’s, of all news stories which I am presented with.

In short, as with any story, there is usually more to it than meets the eye, and I am led to believe that in this case, there could well be.

The essence is that at least one member of a BA cabin crew team on a Hong Kong trip tested positive for that virus.

Cabin crew detainment

Then, it appears that following the stopover, as they were about to leave the hotel to head back to the airport for the return sector, the Chinese authorities stepped in, detained the cabin crew, but let the flight crew go back to the airport to fly the aircraft back home to the UK.

There followed a highly emotive set of responses that served to highlight long-existing tensions between long-serving cabin crew and pilots at the UK’s national carrier.

I am not that interested in those politics, as that’s another story.

One BA flight attendant giving her account of the Hong Kong cabin crew detainment. YouTube.

The response I posted to the story

“I have read the replies and understand these feelings. It is possible that commercial/ operations pressure was applied to the pilots, such as an ‘or else…’ ultimatum. There are so many things we don’t know about this story sadly. It could easily have been to make a political point on the part of the Chinese government/ police. It could also have been pressure put on the airline to comply or force the aircraft to be impounded. We just are not privy to this knowledge.”

Personal experiences as a cabin crew member

I do remember a time when one of my crew members vomited outside the airport and the captain jumped at the chance to offload him and for him to remain in the USA because of JPM flight rules. I argued that we could take him back and he could recover with minimal impact to our service or safety. We took him back, and all seemed fine, but there was a sting in the tale (sic) when a whole memo was sent out to thousands of flight and cabin crews to remind them of the importance of filling out an incident form specifically for crew sickness down the route. Of course, it was the captain who had checked a day or two later and reported me! If we are talking black and white he did the right thing.

The Hong Kong situation

The situation in Hong Kong is desperate anyway, never mind this story which only exacerbates the tension. I have friends in HK who relay the everyday terror citizens are in, but it doesn’t get reported back here in the UK.

I hope these young ladies are gonna be ok. At the very least it’ll be a good story to tell when they’re released.

When you leave democracy behind

It could serve as a reminder that when you take on the uniform and leave the safety of your own democracy, that there is the slight chance that when you arrive in a foreign country, far from home, anything might happen, from a bomb threat, a natural disaster to a civil war.

And that’s without any mention of the aircraft itself!

And there’s my point. I think a lot of us forget those episodes that have happened to other well-intentioned crews in days gone by in the routine line of duty. As soon as the landing gear is retracted into the wheel-bays, you’re off, and within may be as little as thirty minutes you could be into foreign airspace.

Hong Kong’s detainment of BA’s cabin crew was not unique

In my book (‘Journey of a Reluctant Air Steward’, 2019), I cited the story of another BA flight now forgotten about, as it was three decades ago:

‘There are deeper threads that unravel a far more disturbing picture of the western world we think is so safe. Our leaders are not necessarily ‘the good guys’.

Read the story of BA149 in August 1990, landing at Kuwait City two hours after the Iraqi invasion when the crew was supposed to be warned if it happened.

Just like pawns, the pax and crew were taken captive for four months. (The cynical might question the convenient last-minute loading of a handful of silent yet military-looking men into Business class ex-London).’

So, even if there is more to the Hong Kong Story, (such as the suggestion of a breach of electronic tagging which the pilots weren’t guilty of), then my commentary remains. As aircrew, we fly domestically, inter-continentally and internationally.

Do yourself a favor when staying anywhere outside of your country and respect the local customs and restrictions. When in Rome….

What do you think about the detainment of the BA cabin crew in Hong Kong? You can let us know your opinion here.

Simon Marton, Aviation Journalist

Simon Marton author

Simon J Marton lives in the rolling hills above Bath, Somerset, England with his family and various animals. He used to work in the airline industry for 5 UK airlines and now does something completely different, having stumbled on law, housing and drum-teaching on the way. He has a passion for encouraging and forging new paths, believing that life should be an adventure. Writing is just a part of that journey, and he has a special interest in male-identity and mental health.

Featured Image: Unsplash.

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