BMI Airways staff banned from taking Bibles, St Christophers and teddy bears on trips to Saudi


Sunday Mirror 

AIRLINE bosses have sparked outrage by banning flight crew from wearing crucifixes or St Christopher medals on flights to Saudi Arabia - in case they offend the country's Muslims.  

Stewardesses at British Midland International have also been told they must walk two paces behind male colleagues - and cover themselves from head to foot in a headscarf and robes known as an abaya. 

And they have been forbidden from taking Bibles or cuddly toys such as teddy bears into the Saudi capital Riyadh - even in flight bags. Saudi Arabia's strict laws enforced by the religious police - the Mutaween - ban the public practice of Christianity, churches and Christian religious materials, and figures of animals, including toys. 

One employee, who asked not to be named, said: "It's outrageous that we must respect their beliefs but they're not prepared to respect ours. "BMI are asking too much of their staff on this one.  "My gran gave me a crucifix shortly before she died and I wear it at all times. It's got massive sentimental value and I don't see why I have to remove it."  

The staff handbook reads: "Prior to disembarking the aircraft all female crew will be required to put on their companyissued abaya. It will be issued with the headscarf which must be worn."  Officials from the Amicus union have asked the company to allow staff members to opt out of the flights to protect their own beliefs.  BMI have ruled instead that any long-haul staff can transfer to domestic flights only.  But staff could lose up to £20,000 a year in wages - and BMI have refused to compensate them.  

Since the route began in September around 40 staff have made complaints to their managers.  A similar number have taken legal advice and plan to take the company to an employment tribunal.  Homosexual activity is also illegal in Saudi Arabia and is punishable by flogging, jail or death.  A source said: "A lot of male members of staff are gay and some have gone off sick because they are so frightened of travelling to Saudi.  

"The religious police are everywhere and suspicious of foreigners.  "A few weeks ago a female member of staff was stopped after her baggage went through the Xray machine because they thought she had a sex toy in her suitcase.  "They threw all her stuff across the floor and found it was only a hairbrush. There was no apology. It really upset her."  

The source added: "It is clear that BMI are putting profits before staff welfare and it has angered a lot of people."  BMI are the only British carriers flying to Saudi after British Airways pulled out last March. They said they were losing money.  

Last night Amicus declined to comment.  BMI spokesman Phil Shepherd said: "In providing air services people want, demand and use, we have an obligation to respect the customs of the destination country."

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