British Airways faces the possibility of being taken to court by a group of vegan cabin crew who allege the airline has unlawfully discriminated against them for repeatedly refusing to provide vegan food for employees. The flight attendants are being supported by The Vegan Society who have warned British Airways that compensation for discrimination claims of this nature can “reach significant amounts”, ordering the airline to set out how it will rectify the situation or face possible legal action.
At present, British Airways cabin crew mainly eat leftover non-vegan Business Class food and often have to bring their own food or get hold of snacks that are “inadvertently” vegan. While pilots at the airline are said to be able to pre-order special meals (known in the industry as “SPML” meals), cabin crew don’t enjoy the same perk.
According to the British Airways website, the airline currently offers 14 different types of special meal including vegan dishes, as well as Asian vegetarian meals, gluten-free and Muslim meals. The Unite union, which represents BA’s cabin crew, would like to see the airline offer the full-range of SPML meals to cabin crew to cater for a range of dietary and religious needs, just like pilots can already do.
“On the face of it the BA food provision policy appears to be discriminatory because it puts vegan employees at a specific disadvantage,” the letter from Dr Jeanette Rowley, Legal Advisor at The Vegan Society to British Airways reads.
“The BA food provision policy also favours one group of employees, namely the pilots, who have the option to pre-order vegan meals as required,” the letter continues.
“I understand that the vegan employees have requested vegan food on a number of occasions and are now prepared to progress formal complaints against BA for unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.”
Businesses such as British Airways are under a positive duty not to discriminate against employees who have what are known as “protected characteristics” – such as a religious or philosophical belief. Previous court cases have ruled that veganism is considered a protected characteristic. The Vegan Society believes BA’s current positive could be leading to so-called ‘indirect discrimination’.
While there are plenty of cabin crew who bring their own food with them on long-haul flights departing from their home base, self-catering can be a lot more difficult when returning from a foreign destination – especially in certain cities where vegan options are limited, the hotel is located out of town or when it’s considered too dangerous for cabin crew to leave the hotel.
A ‘working group’ is set to be established by the airline early in the New Year to “explore what can be achieved”.