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The perks and the pitfalls of social media

by Charlotte Branson Media and Communications Officer

Social media is a part of everyday life in 2018. What was once a niche of teens and young adults is now used across the board, whether you are Generation Z, a millennial, Generation X or a baby boomer. In fact, 51% of Facebook’s UK users are 34 or older. Social media can be a great tool for communicating with long-lost friends, sharing stories, and keeping up with the latest news.

However, we’ve also seen its dark side: the prevalence of ‘fake news’ infiltrating our feeds; internet trolls causing misery; and people being lambasted – even losing their jobs or being imprisoned – for content they have shared.

Pilots are not exempt from this. We’ve recently seen a much-publicised case of two easyJet pilots fooling around on Snapchat while in the cockpit. The footage leaked and, as a result, called into question how professional – or indeed safe – it is for a pilot to be on social media while flying.

Pilots using social media while at work is not uncommon, however – and there are many cases of it being employed positively. Pilots have arguably one of the best ‘office views’ in the world, and many share photos or time-lapse footage of some of the most spectacular vistas they get to enjoy – to much adulation from the general public. Some pilot accounts boast of thousands of followers.

To non-pilots, the profession still comes with an impression of glamour, and harnessing this fascination can have a positive effect on the way people see the role – which, in turn, can result in support for pilots during difficult times. This is particularly true now that locked cockpit doors have put a very real barrier between the average Joe Passenger and those at the controls.

What are the rules?

The easyJet case, and others like it, have resulted in questions being asked about whether pilots should be using social media on the flight deck. However, this comes from a lack of understanding of the day-to-day realities of the job.

There can be periods of time in the air that are routine and –while pilots should always be ready to jump into action should issues arise – there are certainly spells of downtime. Each airline comes with its own rules about taking photos or videos in the cockpit – so, if you’re unsure, check with your employer. Many airlines permit it, however, as long as it is done at non-critical phases of flight. British Airways, for example, bans operating crew from taking photographs on the flight deck at below 20,000ft.

You should always keep in mind what it is you’re sharing, too. A beautiful photo of the skyline at a non-critical phase of flight is unlikely to land you in trouble (depending on your airline’s rules, of course), but any images or footage that show you acting in a foolish or negligent manner are best avoided. Apart from anything else, it’s damaging to the profession as a whole. It is in all pilots’ interests to demonstrate that this job requires a high level of skill and focus – particularly at a time when the future need for pilots is frequently being called into question by the public and those with commercial interests.

Industrial issues of cameras in the cockpit

There is another threat to pilots – the introduction of personal cameras into the cockpit. In 2016, BALPA won a High Court case to prevent the disclosure to the police of a range of Air Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) materials in the Shoreham airshow crash of August 2015. This was a major milestone in our continuous journey to protect flight safety, and BALPA intervened on behalf of members because of the serious and far-reaching implications for a just culture and the integrity of air accident investigations.

However, the judges did order disclosure of the film footage taken on the pilot’s personal camera, which had been voluntarily installed for private leisure and commercial purposes. You should be aware that any photos or footage you take, or share, are not subject to the same accident-investigation protections and so – should something go wrong – this could be taken by police as evidence before the accident investigation has concluded.


We’ve also seen cases of people losing their jobs as a result of social media posts shared outside of work. It’s worth bearing in mind that your role as pilots is public-facing: you often announce your names at the beginning of a flight and passengers might be quick to track you down online. If your Twitter posts are wildly inappropriate – or your Facebook profile picture is risqué – you could run the risk of being reported to your employer. And just
because you have anonymised your profile, don’t think your employer or others can’t easily find out who you are.

You might even find that passengers contact you via your social media platforms – as experienced by Captain Dave Fielding. He recounted in a previous blog that, after a go-around on his flight, a passenger contacted him via Facebook to ask for an explanation.

Just like anyone else, you’re entitled to a life outside of work, and BALPA doesn’t want to appear anti social media. After all, we’ve seen the great benefits of interacting with our members and interested people through our own Twitter and Facebook accounts.

We must implore you, however, to apply common sense, be careful about what you’re posting – in and out of work hours – and ensure you follow your airline’s rules on what is allowed on the flight deck.

By following these simple steps, you can continue to enjoy the perks of social media and not fall foul of the pitfalls.