'Short sighted' | British Airways hits turbulence over new rules limiting crew's social media use

British Airways hits turbulence over new rules limiting crew's social media use

British Airways has denied claims that it has banned crew and pilots from posting about their jobs on social media, following an influential pilot’s heartfelt post about his famous cockpit snaps coming to an end.

The airline recently issued new guidance to employees with a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ outlining what is appropriate content to share with the public, and how to prevent safety or security issues.

This guidance was sent as part of a memo sent to BA employees in late January, shared with national publication the Independent, which said: “We positively encourage and value the contributions that you, our colleagues, make on social media by sharing your passion for original content creation and your pride for working at BA.”

For the likes of Captain Dave Wallsworth, a BA pilot whose posts have earned him more than 110,000 Twitter followers, this decision blocks him from making any posts like the ones that have seen his popularity take off – he is best known for posting images captured mid-flight, showing the cockpit, stunning skies and/or the land thousands of feet below.

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Captain Dave, as he is known online, tweeted about the issue, saying: “Unfortunately, due to newly published company guidelines, I and my colleagues will no longer be allowed to post when ‘professionally engaged in our job’ at @British_Airways So that’s the end of my flying posts, photos and videos. Thanks for all the lovely comments over the years.”

Captain Dave was inundated with support following his announcement, with many of pointing out the goodhearted nature of his posts and the positive PR it has given the airline.

“This is a short sighted, self inflicted wound to (British Airways) for silencing such a powerful, positive and influential brand ambassador as Captain Dave,” one user said. They added: “He inspired us to travel your airline and influenced people to pursue a career as a pilot. This is not a wise decision.”

The airline quickly moved to refute the idea that all work-based social posts would be outlawed but stated that it wasn’t “unreasonable” to ask crew not to be using social media while in the middle of a flight.

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A British Airways spokesperson said: “We’ve not stopped any colleague from posting on social media – in fact, quite the opposite.

“We’ve given our people clarity about what’s appropriate and when.

“For example, when our colleagues are flying an aircraft, they’re responsible for the safety of everyone on board. It’s not unreasonable to ask them to wait until their break to take photos.”

Why even ‘positive’ social media posts about work can have consequences

Okay, you might be thinking surely workers shouldn’t be concerned, so long as their posts aren’t creating safety issues or criticising their employer. But what constitutes praise or criticism is subjective, as one UK employee found out last year.

In April 2022, teenager Ollie Tutt was sacked after a video in which he PRAISED his job went viral on social media.

The 19-year-old found himself unexpectedly in the limelight after his TikTok video, in which he revealed his enjoyment of working as a delivery driver for Sainsbury’s, gained millions of views.

In the clip, Tutt said: "If you want an easy job, just go and work at Tesco, Sainsbury's, and do this delivering...”.

“It is possibly the easiest job I've ever had, the best paying job I've ever had and I get looked after.

“I don’t do much, I just sit on the side of the road waiting to do these drops.”

He also talked about how the customers were “lovely” and recommended anyone who wanted “the sickest job” to apply for a role as a delivery driver.

However, in a follow-up video, Tutt revealed that the clip had landed him in hot water with senior Sainsbury's bosses, mainly due to his frequent swearing throughout the short clip.

“That video got a lot more attention than I thought it would and caused a bit of a problem”, he revealed.

“My manager told me that the store manager didn’t really mind but because I swore in that video, it’s kind of bad for the company.”

Unfortunately, in another post, Tutt said he had ultimately lost his job on the grounds of “gross misconduct” and “disrepute”.

‘Exercise caution when using personal social media accounts’

Online platforms including the likes of Twitter, Instagram and TikTok have grown in popularity over the years, and a growing number of people are willingly sharing several aspects of their life, including their work.

However, Katie Johnston, Senior Associate at law firm Lewis Silkin previously spoke exclusively to HR Grapevine about why staff members should “exercise caution” when using personal social media accounts.

Johnston explained: “They may find themselves subject to disciplinary proceedings or even dismissed from their employment if their employer construes a post as inappropriate and/or that it poses a risk to the employer’s reputation.

“This is regardless of whether a post relates to their employer, or whether it was posted during their working hours."

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The legal expert added: “Cases will be assessed by the Employment Tribunal on a case-by-case basis. However, employers are more likely to succeed in establishing that the dismissal was lawful where the employee’s (albeit personal) account is accessible by the public and where there is a link to the employer, for example, where the employer’s name is mentioned, the employee is wearing their work uniform or they have work colleagues as connections."

To prevent problems from occurring, Johnston said that employers should have “a robust and up-to-date social media policy in place”.

She explained: “[This should set] out clear parameters for staff use of social media, including personal use outside of work, and ideally examples of where posts may cross the line so there can be no doubt.

“The policy should state that misuse of social media by staff may amount to gross misconduct, which could lead to immediate dismissal,” Johnston concluded.

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