Pilot Wins Unfair Dismissal Claim After Developing Flying Phobia

For centuries, Nazaré was a traditional seaside town where Portuguese fishermen taught their children to avoid the huge waves that crashed against the nearby cliffs.

Matthew Guest had been flying Q400 aircrafts for Flybe until 2014 when a change occurred and he was then required to pilot Embraer jets, which generally fly longer routes.

This change resulted in Guest experiencing panic attacks and eventually being fired from a job he had held for seven years.

Guest described the panic attacks as feeling like severe butterflies or stomach cramps. On one flight to Florence, Italy, Guest felt dizzy and nauseous and had an impending feeling of dread in his stomach at the thought of boarding the plane.

Guest’s GP wrote to his superiors saying that Guest had “developed an increasing phobia and anxiety about long-distance flights and being trapped on the aeroplane.” This resulted in Guest’s medical certificate (which allowed him to pilot) to be temporarily suspended.

Pilot flying a plane. (Photo via iStock / Getty Images Plus / Sunshine Seeds)

He returned to work in April 2016, but Guest was unable to cure his phobias despite CBT sessions, extra training, and reduced hours.

On June 17, 2016, Guest called in sick even though he was scheduled to fly to Kefalonia, Greece, a four-hour flight. Guests voiced his concerns of the length of the flight with his manager Lee Goreham who “suggested that during the cruise phase of the journey the claimant might pass the time by reading a book or doing a crossword (as pilots frequently do).”

Soon after, Guest was let go in March 2017.

“We are not prepared to take the risk of returning you as a pilot on the EJet or Dash 8, so we are providing you with formal notice that we intend to terminate your employment on capability grounds,” said Guest’s dismissal letter.

While Guest was offered an alternative position as a flight safety support officer in Exeter, which would render him unable to return to flying, Guest turned it down and ultimately sued Flybe for unfair dismissal.

Employment Judge Tom Coghlin QC recently ruled in Guest’s favor saying that he should have been allowed to meet with Flybe’s COO Luke Farajallah to discuss his position and should have been offered other alternative roles like being allowed to fly Q400 planes again or fly accompanied by an additional pilot for a period.

Guest now awaits to see if Flybe will reinstate him as a pilot and make amends. If the airline foregoes this offer, a judge will make a decision on further action later this month.

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