A British Airways pilot banned from flying for refusing to wear a Covid facemask during the pandemic because he claimed to have the ‘right to breathe freely’ has lost his bid to sue the airline for discrimination.
Peter Burch tried to claim he was ‘a sovereign being who has a right to breathe freely’ and that he should not be subjected to ‘arbitrary and pointless’ rules.
The experienced senior first officer argued that his stance against wearing a mask was the equivalent to a religious belief and he should be legally protected as a result.
But an employment tribunal judge ruled it could not qualify as it potentially infringed on the ‘fundamental’ human rights of others who could catch a disease through his refusal to mask up.
As a result his claims of discrimination and harassment against BA were dismissed.
The Watford tribunal heard Mr Burch had worked for the airline since 1996, first as a short-haul flight captain and then as a long-haul senior first officer where he flew Boeing 747s.
As a result of the pandemic in 2020, BA furloughed a number of pilots, who were paid a reduced salary as they were not required to fly, the hearing was told.
After 20 months on reduced pay, Mr Burch was invited to return to work but had to complete a course which included a training flight in February 2022 to Miami.
However, the night before the flight, he had a ‘major stress reaction’ after being sent a copy of the airline’s policy by his training captain requiring him to wear a mask on board.
He was ‘so stressed’ he called in sick.
For his next scheduled training duty, Mr Burch reported to work without a mask, claiming he was ‘exempt’ from wearing one.
This was rejected by his training captain, but when Mr Burch refused to comply, he was ‘stood down’ and placed on unpaid leave, it was heard.
In a letter to his manager in February 2022, he said he didn’t want to be ‘forced’ to wear a mask and that British Airways had a ‘duty of care’ to him.
The pilot said he didn’t want to face any ‘further humiliation’ from another line captain or ‘petty authoritarian’ who would try to infringe his ‘right to be treated with dignity and respect whilst at work’.
Mr Burch then took BA to the tribunal claiming discrimination, arguing that his anti-mask stance should be protected under equality laws.
‘In July 2020, the government mandated the wearing of face masks in indoor public places. I was distressed by this new regulation,’ he said.