British Airways Pilots Pursue Compensation for Repetitive Neck Strain Injury Instigated by Anti-Terrorism Procedures

After the September 11 attacks (9/11), a three-camera cockpit door security surveillance system (CDSS) was installed on British Airways (BA) aircraft, with recorded material displayed on monitors mounted on the rear walls of flight decks.

For BA pilots, the safe procedure for opening cockpit doors when the buzzer sounds is as follows. While strapped into their large, fixed, high-backed chair, they will inspect the image captured by the first camera. They will then use controls positioned in front of them to change the image on the CCTV screen. After having checked the footage caught on the second camera, they will repeat the process for the third camera. Only once all three visuals have been cycled through and reviewed will they operate their controls to open the door.

The purpose of this routine is to verify the identity of cabin crew and to ultimately prevent terrorist invasion of the cockpit.

However, The Daily Mail has reported that 16 pilots are suing BA in negligence for neck and spinal conditions allegedly caused by frequently observing monitors mid-flight.[i]

Given that cockpit chairs do not swivel and wearing tightly harnessed seatbelts can make it very difficult and awkward to turn the body, the group of pilots claim that the constant motion of twisting their necks to observe the monitors positioned behind them (at least three-times-per-buzz) has resulted in painful repetitive strain injuries (RSI). In fact, several of the pilots embroiled in litigation have been forced to fly different jets in the fleet, due to the effects of their injuries.

Total compensation sought is understood to be more than £250,000, with individual claim values ranging from £10,000 to £100,000.

The lead case is advanced by 57-year-old, Captain Jonathan Parry, formerly of the Royal Navy. The 57-year-old joined the airline in 2006 and flew Boeing 757 (see right image below) and 767 (see left image below) aeroplanes up until 2014.

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[Source (left): Wikimedia Commons – Aero Icarus (13 January 2008) ‘British Airways Boeing 767-300’. Source (right): Wikimedia Commons – Scott Wright (18 December 2007) ‘BAW - British Airways Boeing 757-236’.]

He estimates that he craned his neck up to five-times-per-hour (or 5,000-times-per-year), for the purpose of releasing the flight deck door. He went on to suffer a herniated (slipped) disc and incur spinal damage, which required surgery.

A fortnight ago, pre-trial issues involving legal costs and quantification of the claims were heard at Central London County Court, but thus far, no trial date has been set.

The trial will focus on whether BA breached its duty of care towards its employees and determine the precise triggers of their upper limb injuries, i.e. cumulative vertebral twisting in the course of employment, or some other factor? Papers filed in court place BA at fault for failing to position the CCTV screens in front of the pilots in cockpit cabins. There is a sense of general concern that pilots may be at risk of sustaining neck strain injuries while in the air, which poses a potential flight hazard.

Nonetheless, BA is denying all liability for its employees’ injuries, maintaining that there was no breach of duty of care owed. It also contests the quantum of damages claimed.

 

[i] Darren Boyle, ‘Group of 16 British Airways pilots sue the airline for more than £250,000 claiming they “strained their necks by turning round to check cockpit security cameras for terrorists”’ (16 March 2022 Daily Mail) <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10618657/BA-pilots-sue-airline-claiming-turning-seats-view-CCTV-damaged-necks.html> accessed 16 March 2022.