EasyJet had no legal basis to deny passenger Mark Leiser from boarding a flight because of a tweet criticising the airline, according to professor of law at the London School of Economics Andrew Murray.
Leiser, a law lecturer at Strathclyde currently studying for a PhD and a tech law columnist for The Drum, was on his way to London for a supervisory meeting with Murray when an easyJet staff member asked him to step out of the queue for boarding.
According to Leiser, he was told that because he had criticised easyJet for failing to help a soldier going on active duty meet an essential travel connection following flight delays, he would not be permitted to board the 9.20pm flight from Glasgow to London.
Leiser believes staff eventually allowed him to board the flight when they realised his background was in law.
The events captured the attention of the public and the story was carried by media outlets around the globe and, according to Murray, Leiser had to switch his phone off during their Wednesday morning meeting to avoid a stream of calls from journalists.
However, he went on: “It is not the point of this blog to revisit the facts nor is it the role of this blog to defend Mark, even though he is my PhD student.
“Instead I thought I would try to dispassionately analyse the legal position to see who was in the right (or more right - law is never black and white) rather than assuming as most people have that Mark was in the right and easyJet in the wrong (again legally, not morally or otherwise).”
The blog examines whether the tweet from Leiser that allegedly sparked the incident could be considered offensive or illegal under the Communications Act 2003.
Flight delayed 90min. Soldier going to miss last connection & @easyjet refusing to help pay for him to get to Portsmouth. Get right into em!
— Mark Leiser (@mleiser) September 24, 2013
Murray, who specialises in cyberlaw, concludes: “No one appeared to be alarmed or put in fear as a result of Mark's tweet. The tweet was itself lawful and is in accordance with the DPP guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media. In particular, the guidance in relation to credible threats.”
Murray goes on to consider the “million dollar question” of whether easyJet staff were within their legal rights to refuse boarding for Leiser using the relevant criteria from the company’s terms and conditions. Section 15.2 of the terms and conditions state that the airline is permitted to deny boarding or delay any flight “where we consider this to be justified by circumstances beyond our control or for reasons of safety”.
Murray said: “Now obviously this was not an attempt to deny boarding because of "circumstances beyond our control or for reasons of safety," unless they genuinely believed Mark was a risk to passengers or crew.
“Thereby I don't believe easyJet's terms and conditions permit them to deny boarding on the basis of a social media communication.”
He concludes: “Perhaps the moral of the story is if you run a 24 hour business you need a 24 hour PR team managing situations like this.”
EasyJet released a statement following the incident confirming that no passenger would be denied onto a flight for making comments on social media. An investigation into events is now underway.