The bizarre case of the pilot fired for being afraid of flying
No, airline, it's not good enough just to tell him to do a crossword, tribunal rules
A pilot sacked for being scared of flying has won an unfair dismissal claim after a tribunal heard he was told to do a crossword when he raised concerns about his phobia.
Matthew Guest, a first officer, had been with Flybe for almost a decade but became anxious and had “panic attacks” after being promoted to longer flights, a tribunal heard. On one occasion Guest twice raised concerns with a boss about a four-hour flight, but was told to do a crossword or read a book while the plane was cruising.
He called in sick the next day and has not flown since.
A UK employment judge has now ruled he should have been offered alternative roles or at least an opportunity to discuss his case with Luke Farajallah, the group chief operating officer. The father of two is now asking to be re-employed by the low-cost airline as his remedy for unfair dismissal.
Unless the parties agree the matter will be decided by a judge later this month.
Guest’s problems began in December 2014 when he was moved onto Flybe’s Embraer jets, or E-Jets, based at Birmingham Airport. Like the Q400, which he had worked on for seven years, it is crewed by a captain and a first officer. During a flight to Florence he had “an unsettling experience” in which he suddenly felt sick and dizzy, the Birmingham hearing was told. Later that month he had a feeling of impending doom or dread, and a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach as he drove to the airport.
His doctor wrote to his bosses saying he had “developed an increasing phobia and anxiety about long-distance flights and being trapped on the aeroplane”. His medical certificate was temporarily suspended due to “panic attacks” and only reinstated on April 27 2015.
He was eventually signed off with anxiety and began a second period of absence, returning on April 26 2016. Things came to a head on June 17 2016 when he was due to undertake a four-hour flight to Kefalonia in Greece.
Judge Tom Coghlin QC noted that after Guest twice raised concerns with Lee Goreham, his boss, “in what I think was an effort to be supportive, suggested that during the cruise phase of the journey the claimant might pass the time by reading a book or doing a crossword (as pilots frequently do)”.
The company sacked him in March 2017.
The judge said Guest had never been given the opportunity to meet Farajallah. The judge added that Guest could have returned to flying the Q400, or been allowed to fly for a time with another pilot. He said that had Flybe followed the correct procedure there was a two-thirds chance they would have sacked him fairly.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited