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Extinction Rebellion protests disrupt operations at London City Airport

Reminiscent of the recent protests that caused major disruptions at Hong Kong International Airport, activists advocating for the Extinction Rebellion climate movement gathered at London City Airport (LCY) last Monday (7 October). Protests were livestreamed on Facebook and footage was also uploaded on the official Twitter account of the UK chapter of Extinction Rebellion.

In line with their broader aims of demanding immediate governmental action with regard to climate change, Extinction Rebellion asserts that London City Airport was particularly selected as a protest site because the planned expansion of the airport is against the UK government’s commitment to cut emission to net zero by 2050 – a target that the UK is signatory to under the United Nations and led by the country’s government advisory Committee on Climate Change.

Demonstration led by Extinction Rebellion protestors near London City Airport (Image: Reuters/Henry Nicholls)

One standout happening from the series of prolonged protests at the airport was the delay of E1283, an Air Lingus flight bound to Dublin from LCY, caused by a protestor who stood up to deliver a rousing speech on action and refused to take his seat right before the flight was about to take off. The flight was delayed for two hours, departing only at 11.16am instead of its scheduled time of 9.40am, and the protestor was eventually escorted out of the aircraft.

In another LCY incident related to the protests, visually-impaired protestor and former Paralympian athlete, James Brown, climbed on top of a British Airways plane and livestreamed himself on Facebook. He was also supported by other Extinction Rebellion protestors waiting at the gate for standard boarding. Brown had priority boarding due to his disability and used the additional time while the plane was still relatively empty to climb on top and eventually lie down flat on the fuselage of the aircraft.

Climate protestor climbs on top of a British Airways aircraft bound for takeoff (Image: PA)

The other protestors also filmed the event but were eventually escorted out by airport security and arrested by the police. Brown appeared at the Westminster Magistrate’s Court on 12 October for his first hearing following the case. 50 protestors have been arrested at LCY since last Thursday and they are part of the 1000 protestors arrested in London in connection with the widespread Extinction Rebellion protests throughout the city since last weekend.

Protestors at Trafalgar Square in London, calling for a ban on air travel (Image: The Sunday Times UK)

From an aviation perspective, these incidents shed light on the need for tighter security and screening of passengers prior to boarding at LCY. Clearly, the protestors had no intention to board the flights they had booked and to subsequently arrive at their destinations, hence raising the question of internal airport security past the immigration clearance at LCY. In comparison, it is an offence under law in Singapore to purchase a flight ticket and hold a boarding pass in Singapore’s Changi International Airport, should a passenger have no intention to travel.

LCY, and by extension, airports in general, could consider having similar restrictions in place in order to increase airport security and prevent the abuse of flight bookings for purposes other than travel solely. This would also require the cooperation of commercial airlines, hence calling for greater scrutiny of respective airlines’ policies of appropriate passenger behaviour and flight booking conditions.

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