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Kelsey Sena Tamakloe
By Kelsey Sena Tamakloe June 28, 2021

Social media posts falsely link British Airways pilot deaths to vaccine

If Your Time is short

  • British Airways said four of its pilots died in recent months.

  • The deaths aren’t linked to the COVID-19 vaccines.

  • There is no evidence of airlines banning vaccinated people.

A social media post twisted a real-life story about the deaths of four British Airways pilots by making an unfounded connection to COVID-19 vaccines. 

A June 21 Facebook post, now deleted, claimed, "Airlines begin to ban vaccinated people after pilots die due to vaccine." The comment under the post said, "4 jabbed British Airways pilots die in one week. However, the airline denies any link to the jab."

A similar Instagram post claimed that in a single week, four British Airways pilots and one Delta pilot died and a Canadian pilot became unconscious on the runway. It also claims that these events were linked to the vaccine. 

The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its news feed. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with Facebook.)

The claim about the British Airways pilots has been debunked by Snopes, Lead Stories and Reuters.

The pilots did die, but not all in one week, and not because of the vaccine. 

British Airways dismissed a link to COVID-19 vaccinations. 

"Sadly four members of our pilot community passed away recently. Our thoughts are with their family and friends," the airline wrote on Twitter on June 17. "However, there is no truth whatsoever in the claims speculating that the four deaths are linked." 

The airline did not disclose the pilots’ names. Three of the pilots were identified by Snopes and other outlets: Capt. Nicholas Synnott, Senior First Officer Edward Brice-Bennett, and Senior First Officer Grant Mercer. PolitiFact was unable to learn the name of the fourth pilot.

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None of the news coverage about those pilots mentions vaccines.

Synnott died in June. He contracted COVID-19 in March 2020 while working in Texas, and he spent eight months receiving care  at UT Health and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston. His return to England in December 2020 generated several news stories

Brice-Bennett died on June 2. A local newspaper, the New Valley News, said he was found unconscious in a mountain-biking bike park in Tidworth in southern England. Forty-five minutes later, the newspaper reported, paramedics pronounced him dead. An autopsy found that he had internal abdominal bleeding, the paper’s website said.

Mercer died on May 4. Snopes reported that his death has no connection to a COVID-19 vaccine. His memorial page was raising money for "the send-off he deserves." The page said it would donate any money received over the fundraising goal to a suicide prevention organization. 

The International Air Transport Association, the airline industry’s trade group, said it is not aware of any airlines banning vaccinated passengers or considering it. This echoes what we found in another fact-check of a similar claim. 

"We advocate that people who have been vaccinated should be free to travel without restriction," the association told PolitiFact.

Our ruling

A Facebook user claimed that four British Airways pilots’ deaths were linked to the COVID-19 vaccine and suggested that airlines are banning vaccinated people from traveling.

British Airways said the deaths were not linked to the COVID-19 vaccines. Also, airlines are not considering banning vaccinated people. 

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Instagram post, June 22, 2021

Email exchange with British Airways Press Office, June 24, 2021

Email exchange with International Air Transport Association Corporate Communications, June 24, 2021

International Air Transport Association, "About us," accessed June 23, 2021

British Airways Tweet, June 17, 2021

PolitiFact, "There’s no evidence airlines ‘discuss the risks’ of letting vaccinated people fly," published June 7, 2021

Reuters, "Fact Check-British Airways is not in "crisis talks with the government over vaccinated pilots,"published June 17, 2021 

Snopes, "No, Four British Airways Pilots Did Not Die from COVID-19 Vaccine," published June 22, 2021 Daily Mail, "British BA pilot who spent record 243 days in American hospital after being struck down by Covid tragically dies, aged 60, months after finally returning home to his family in Surrey as ‘devastated’ airline leads tributes," published June 10, 2021

New Valley, "Airline pilot in mystery death," published June 14, 2021

Lead Stories, "Four British Airways Pilots Did NOT Die in One Week and There Is NO Proof Deaths Were From COVID-19 Vaccine," published June 22, 2021

ABC 7 News, "Man hospitalized for 8 months survives COVID-19, returns home in time for Christmas," published December 24, 2020

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More by Kelsey Sena Tamakloe

Social media posts falsely link British Airways pilot deaths to vaccine

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