The Aer Lingus flight to Dublin was getting ready to leave London City Airport on Thursday when a passenger stood up to deliver a message, bringing the so-called flight-shame movement directly to travelers.
“We have two generations of human civilization left if we carry on doing what we’re doing,” the unidentified man said, holding up a smartphone. Passengers urged him to sit down and asked the crew to get him off the plane.
“I don’t wish to travel with you, but I don’t wish to get off,” the man said. He was ultimately forced off by police and arrested when the plane returned to the gate. A statement from Aer Lingus said he was scheduled to travel on the flight and was removed “due to disruptive behavior on board.” The plane underwent a full security check before leaving at 11:16 a.m. local time.
It was just one of many acts of protest Thursday at the airport, where dozens of activists from the Extinction Rebellion movement had planted themselves at an entrance, according to the Guardian. Some had glued themselves to the floor, the paper said.
“By non-violently shutting down this airport, in homage to the style of the Hong Kong democracy protesters, we are demonstrating the utter frailty of the transport systems that countries such as ours, unwisely, have come to depend upon,” said an Extinction Rebellion spokesman, Rupert Read, according to the Guardian.
Video footage showed a man climbing on top of a British Airways jet that was bound for Amsterdam. A woman streaming video of the act from the Facebook account Extinction Rebellion UK said he was a partially sighted former Paralympic athlete named James Brown.
“We need to encourage people to fly less,” the woman said. Her video stream ended after about 22 minutes when police told her she was under arrest on suspicion of aiding and abetting the endangerment of an aircraft — apparently for helping the man get a ticket — and public nuisance. At that point, the man remained sprawled on top of the plane.
A British Airways statement said people from that flight have been booked on alternative flights to Amsterdam, and the airport confirmed in an update at 2 p.m. local time that a booked passenger had climbed on top of a plane and said other operations were unaffected.
“Metropolitan Police are in attendance and we are working with all partners to investigate, and ensure the safe and secure continuation of service,” the update said, adding that “a number” of protesters were still outside the front of the terminal.
Police said in the early afternoon that they had arrested “a number of people” outside the airport and one person on a flight on the runway. Authorities said they would deal with activists “robustly but proportionately.”
“Our policing plan is aimed at preventing criminal activity which poses a significant safety and security risk to the airport, and the thousands of passengers using it,” Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said in a statement.
“Targeting an airport and inconveniencing travelers in this way is wholly unacceptable and irresponsible,” he continued. “The consequences of committing offenses at airports are serious; individuals breaking the law are being, and will continue to be, arrested and prosecuted where appropriate.”
As of 9 a.m. U.K. time Thursday, police had made 842 arrests, totaled over the course of several days, across London that are connected to the Extinction Rebellion protests. The group started a planned two-week campaign in cities around the world Monday.