Airline campaigning: a step-by-step guide
As the launch of NCADC’s campaign toolkit draws nearer, we present one more sneak preview … on airline campaigning. As the toolkit explains, the most effective campaigning begins much earlier than when removal directions are issued. If you start planning a campaign early, you can be more strategic and bring in more and wider support.
If your campaign has reached the point of removal directions being issued, there are still things that can be done. Below is a guide to last minute airline campaigning, for stopping an individual removal on a commercial flight
It is very difficult to take effective action on an individual campaign when someone is booked on a charter flight, although there are ongoing direct actions against charter flights. UKBA will not release information about private companies being used for mass deportations. Watch this space for charter flight campaigning strategies…
There is more scope for last minute campaigning if someone is booked on a commercial flight. This is because the commercial airlines are more likely to respond if they think their business reputation is being damaged by being connected to enforced removals, and because of the pilot’s legal power to refuse to carry an individual if they think it would in any way put the flight at risk.
Some airlines have recognised that being involved in enforced removals makes them look bad. A broader campaigning aim is to get airlines to refuse to take part in these removals all together – some airlines cite that they are legally required to accept the individual if UKBA issue removal directions/a deportation order under immigration law, and it is UKBA not the airline conducting the removal. Consumer pressure, however,may still have an impact. Almost all the big airlines have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Individual campaign information can be posted on these sites (with Facebook pages, you generally have to ‘like’ the page before you can post comments, and not all the pages allow comments), so that all of their customers and potential customers can see the kind of activities (enforced removals, complicity in violation of human rights) the companies are engaged in.
There have been clear examples of supporter action leading to an airline refusing to carry an individual in an enforced removal. This has often been in combination with the individual facing removal speaking to staff as well (see below), and raising awareness of the case meant that staff were probably ready for the individual to speak to them, and possibly made them more receptive to their explanation. If someone is issued with removal directions with one airline, the ticket is cancelled and the next removal directions are with another airline, this may mean that airline campaigning stopped the first removal.
Find out which airline is carrying out the removal. The flight number on the removal directions or deportation order will tell you this (e.g flight KQ101 is Kenya Airways, flights beginning with ET are Ethiopia Airlines). You can just put the flight number into an internet search engine to find out the airline. If the flight begins PVT, this is a private charter flight and you will not be able to contact the airline.
- Find the contact details of the airline – postal address, fax number, email address, phone number. Try and use contact details for the airline office in the airport, though these are not always available.
Encourage friends, family and supporters to contact that airline by fax, email and phone calls or by post if there is time.
It is better for lots of different people to contact the airline once or twice to show the widespread support for the campaign, and so that one person is not accused of harassing the airline.
You can begin contacting the airline as soon as removal directions/deportation order are issued, but you should step up the level of campaigning in the days leading up to the flight.
Politely explain to the airline that UKBA are trying to remove x against their will. Explain why they would be at risk if they are removed, or why it is a breach of their human rights to be removed, and why they need to stay in the UK. Keep it simple, clear and calm. Concern is better than anger, as the person you speak to will be more likely to respond sympathetically.
Remember you are not accusing the airline of removing the individual (UKBA are doing this), but are saying they should not be a part of this because of the reasons above, and because it is bad for their reputation. One way of saying it could be “You are very worried for X’s safety on the flight and after landing, and you are worried for the safety and comfort of other passengers, and for the reputation of xxx Airways”
Ask that your concerns are recorded, and are passed on to the pilot/flight staff. If there are any health issues, ask that the individual is seen by a medical officer and that your concerns are passed on to the medical officer as well as the pilot.
Feed back any response you get to the person facing removal/their campaign group. It can useful to set up a campaign email address so supporters can forward email replies or news directly to the campaign, and can copy the campaign group into the emails they send so you can get a sense of how many people have taken action.
Some supporters hold solidarity demonstrations near the check-in desk around the time other passengers would be checking in. They may wear campaign t-shirts or hand out leaflets, explaining what is happening and why other passengers should express their objections. This isn’t illegal but security in airports is unsurprisingly tight and airports are private property, so think carefully about who should take part in these actions (people with insecure status/no British citizenship should be especially careful about getting involved in actions like this)
If the person facing removal is taken to the airport, they can communicate their concerns directly to airline staff and the pilot. This has been successful with both Kenya Airways and Air France. The pilot can take the view that they will not carry someone who does not want to travel; or that someone being taken against their will could put the flight in danger. Remember that the person facing removal will be surrounded by security/escort staff so it will not be straightforward communicating to airline staff.
Is airline campaigning always part of a public campaign?
While actions such as number 10 – an action at the airport – are clearly part of a public campaign, contacting the airline doesn’t have to be. A small but committed group of people can a big impact when contacting airlines. If you don’t want a public campaign, but want some action taken, friends, family and community members who already know about your situation can be encouraged to contact the airline.
Does last minute campaigning work?
Airline campaigning can work – there are frequently campaigns in which the airline refused to carry an individual. This cancellation of a flight can buy vital time for legal action to be taken.
Some airline staff tell campaigners that the individual simply needs to tell the airline that they are being carried against their will. Although does not always succeed, it’s likely that pressure from campaigners will alert the airline to the presence of someone being removed against their will, making them more receptive to the individual’s request not to be put on the flight.
It’s very important to remember that stopping a flight is not the end of the fight. If legal action isn’t taken, it’s very likely that UKBA will just issue a new set of removal directions as soon as they can. Sustainable campaigning cannot just involve last minute campaigning – it’s essential that you start preparing a campaign at the earliest stage possible.