British Airways Lifts Religious Symbols Ban

LONDON – British Airways has announced it will now allow its staff to wear a “symbol of faith” openly after a massive row erupted over the airline’s decision to ban a check-in worker from wearing a cross. Church leaders, including the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, have welcomed the decision.

Nadia Eweida, 55, said she was “elated” that the airline had changed its uniform policy, adding that the decision to allow people to wear a cross or other symbols of their faith was "long overdue."

The change in policy will come into effect on February 1, when any of the airline’s 34,000 staff who wear a uniform will be allowed to openly wear a symbol of faith, including a cross and chain.

"This was a surprise to me,” Eweida said, adding that BA had given her no notice of the decision.

She also said she was “grateful” to the church, the public and the media for their support.

BA’s U-turn follows a heated and lengthy public debate flaring over the airline’s dress code rule after Eweida, a check-in clerk at Heathrow airport, refused to stop wearing a tiny cross on a neck chain. She protested that the policy amounted to religious discrimination because Sikhs and Muslims were allowed to wear head coverings. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, had denounced the airline’s behavior as “nonsense” and numerous MPs threatened to boycott BA.

"This is not about me, it is about the rights of Christian workers throughout British Airways and beyond to be able to demonstrate their faith,” Eweida continued.

"Christians have been given a raw deal. I don't believe that any person from any other faith would have been treated in the way that I was."

The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the announcement from BA yesterday that it had reversed its uniform policy. Williams said: “I am grateful that BA have listened to the deep concerns that have been expressed about this issue and that their change of policy now allows Christians to wear crosses openly.

“Important issues have been raised. This is a positive and constructive outcome.”

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said, “Praise the Lord!”

Sentamu had previously said that BA was forgetting the values of the nation it was representing. Yesterday he declared that the airline had “finally shown both grace and magnanimity.”

BA’s policy reversal follows an extensive consultation with its own staff and religious groups including representatives from the Church of England, the Catholic Church and the Muslim Council of Britain.

Those involved in the consultation initially considered a lapel pin as one option but some felt that not all Christians would be satisfied with this compromise.

British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh said: "Most of those consulted felt that a lapel pin was an acceptable and reasonable option. For the majority of our staff, this was the preferred option.

"However, some respondents believed that limiting the change to a pin would not satisfy all Christians."

More importantly, he added, "Comparisons were made between the wearing of a cross around the neck and the wearing of hijabs, turbans and Sikh bracelets.

"For this reason, we have decided to allow some flexibility for individuals to wear a symbol of faith on a chain.

"Our uniform is one of the most powerful symbols of our company and heritage. Our staff wear it with pride and our customers recognize and value it.

"This modification will enable staff to wear symbols of faith openly without detracting from the uniform."

Eweida has been on unpaid leave since September because of her refusal to stop wearing her cross at work. A BA spokesman confirmed that Eweida would be allowed to return to work wearing a cross and chain.

Eweida said she would be happy to return. "I will do my best to fit in and continue working in the way expected of me," she added.

"It has been a very tough time for me. My dignity was violated and I have struggled financially."