Joel Madden forced by British Airways to cover tattoos before flight

Joel Madden had a flight from London to Lisboa, Portugal on British Airways on Saturday. Madden has full arm tattoos and was outrageously told by a British Airways employee that he would have to cover up with a long sleeve shirt before boarding. He quietly put on a shirt, it’s unknown if he had one in his carry-on luggage or if he had to buy one, and boarded the plane. Madden also chronicled the whole incident for his nearly one hundred thousand followers on Twitter. I wonder when we’ll hear a statement from British Airways that they don’t discriminate against passengers’ tattoos and that this was just one rogue employee acting out of order:

Was just told by a british air person I can’t get on the plane till I cover my tatts. Should I fight the power?
7:56 PM Apr 25th from TwitterBerry

I really actually am in shock he won’t let me on the plane till I put long sleeves on and other BA rep is disagreeing
7:57 PM Apr 25th from TwitterBerry

Finally in Lisbon. What a long trip.
about 23 hours ago from TwitterBerry

I still can’t believe Brit Air discriminated me for tatts. Unheard of. the guy was literally disgusted by me. I’m gonna write a letter!!
about 22 hours ago from TwitterBerry

Long ass trip. Finally got to the hotel and geuss what!! No rooms!!! Ahhh!!! Haha gotta laugh sometimes
about 22 hours ago from TwitterBerry

I did end up covering my tats. Its not my style to cause a scene I just had a convo with the BA guy told him how it was discrimination
about 22 hours ago from TwitterBerry

IN Lisbon at the LOST video shoot. Having fun. Long day though!
about 15 hours ago from web

@BritishAirways would i be allowed to bring my tattoos if took advantage of this offer?
about 15 hours ago from web in reply to BritishAirways

yes i covered up to board the BA flight. I didn’t want to miss it. And honestly i was embarrrassed all the people were staring and laughing!
about 14 hours ago from web

its not in the rules that i can tatts arent offensive.looking into it. i havent felt this small since the first time i asked nic out
about 14 hours ago from web

Finally in bed after a good 36 hours of craziness. 3 flights. Tattoo discrimination from BA. and a music video later here i am……..
about 7 hours ago from web

[From Joel Madden’s Twitter]

Madden did look up the British Airway regulations and of course there’s nothing about people with tattoos or piercings not being allowed to board flights. He’s not going to have to write a letter because this will be in the national news within a few hours and make BA look like complete asses. PR messes like this hardly matter when these companies have a monopoly on flights though. For months they were losing basically everyone’s luggage that went through that airport and yet they still remain in business. I’ve had some of the most demoralizing experiences flying and can commiserate with Madden. When someone treats me like that I try to rationalize that it’s their problem, and that they must hate their job so much that they have to take it out on someone. At least Madden has a much larger audience than most of us to witness that he was discriminated against, as upsetting as it must have been.

Update: This post previously had photos of Benji Madden that were incorrectly labeled as Joel. Those have been fixed and thanks to Ima for pointing it out.

We have sent the following message to British Airways Public Relations via e-mail and are waiting for a response:

Dear British Airways public relations,
On a Saturday flight from Heathrow to Lisboa, Portugal, rocker Joel Madden was told by a British Airways staff member to cover up his arm tattoos before boarding. Madden has tattoos of religious figures on both of his forearms. He quietly complied with the request although he told the BA person that he felt he was being discriminated against. Madden immediately posted this on his Twitter, which has nearly 100,000 followers.

Does British Airways have a policy of making all airline passengers cover visible tattoos or was this an isolated incident? Will the staff member who did this be disciplined if it was not in accordance with airline policy?

[We sent this via e-mail to BA Public Relations, at]

Joel Madden is shown out on 4/8/09. He is also seen with girlfriend Nicole Richie on 4/26/09. Credit: Fame Pictures

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26 Responses to “Joel Madden forced by British Airways to cover tattoos before flight”

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  1. kxx says:

    ha no way. Im flying BA on wednesday (heathrow to miami) hope nothing bad happens re all this swine flu stuff!!

  2. geronimo says:

    The only reason I can think of for anyone to be asked to cover up tats is if they were likely to offend other passengers – ie. if they were crude, lewd, racist or bigoted. And since that’s not the case here, it sounds like some BA a*sehole on a powertrip. They really seem to go out of their way to attract bad publicity.

  3. photo jojo says:

    I have visible tattoos and would have pitched a huge fit if they had told me to cover up. Kudos to him for keeping his cool and SHAME on British Airways!

  4. ima says:

    The header picture is of Benji, not Joel. Look at the bottom pics-Joel doesn’t have any tattoos on his neck.

  5. barneslr says:

    I suspect there will be one less BA employee when it’s all said & done. Like the prev poster said, unless the ink is lewd or obscene in some way, then no, that employee was out of line.

  6. Dorothy says:

    He handled himself really well! I am sure this will be huge news! I don’t like the airline people, they always seem really pissed off to be doing what they are doing.

  7. Celebitchy says:

    Sorry I confused the Madden twins and put a post of Benji in the header! That photo was incorrectly labeled as Joel by the agency. Thanks for pointing that out Ima. I will fix that.

  8. geronimo says:

    Ok. Not sure if this had anything to do with it but in the horribly pc world we live in: Joel has Jesus on one arm and Mary on the other. Any chance some BA jobsworth thought it might incite a negative reaction from non-Christian passengers. I’m sure I remember a BA employee being suspended for wearing a small cross (crucafix) at work? Just a thought.

  9. j. ferber says:

    Maybe they thought the tats would scare other passengers or make them see him as a threat? Not sure of the rationale, but I think he did well to cover up and get on the flight. Why make a big fuss? After all, he wasn’t being discriminated against because of his race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. I think tat discrimination, though wrong, is such a minor thing. Best to let British Airways sort this out after the fact, as Joel did. Joel behaved like a gentleman and sucked it up. Class act.

  10. Zoe (The Other One) says:

    Typical BA – Geronimo is right about the crucifix necklace incident.

    I’m flying BA next week and have visible tattoos – wonder if a civilian like me will be made an example of? Doubt it.

  11. DD says:

    My friend used to work for an airline and got discounted airfare. She once took me on an economy flight, and the attendant put on a huge fit because I was wearing jeans and not pants. It was really annoying and stupid.

  12. CandyKay says:

    I don’t think having a Jesus or Mary tattoo should be any reason to cover up. Should Orthodox Jewish male passengers be asked to tuck their curls under their hats? What about women in hijab?

    I was once on a Transatlantic plane flight – TWA I believe – where some Orthodox rabbi passengers were desperately trying to figure out their prayer schedule, based on the time zones we were passing through.

    As a practicing Christian, I was in no way offended – I think I thought it was kind of cool that they took their spirituality so seriously.

  13. Nony says:

    I’ve never thought much of this guy but I really appreciate that he didn’t go all “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM” and didn’t pitch a celebrity fit. That would have just put all the attention on him misbehaving, while in this way there’ll be lots of attention to BA’s weird actions.

  14. geronimo says:

    “I don’t think having a Jesus or Mary tattoo should be any reason to cover up.”

    No, that’s the point, it shouldn’t. But BA have form when it comes to things like this. Be interesting to see what their response is.

  15. L says:

    I just don’t get it. Why would a picture of Jesus or Mary hypothetically incite a negative reaction from non-Christian passengers? And regardless if it did incite negative reactions, then the people who are not mature enough to handle their reactions like adults should be removed from the flight.

  16. neelyo says:

    I would have asked him to cover up his face.

  17. lalalala! says:

    crazy! several years ago,Ritz in Madrid didn’t want to have U2 for guest during a tour! too rock’n roll!

  18. aleach says:

    OXA- you sound like a real class act, buddy.

  19. Aleksa says:

    Oxa, “Taliban outfit”?? You´re being racist to muslims. CB, why is this comment allowed?

  20. Orangejulius says:

    Bloody outrageous. They should apologize and his money should be refunded. Reminds me of the stupidity of the people who removed the Christmas trees from Sea-tac airport because they weren’t politically correct.

  21. Kat says:

    Completely reactionary and ridiculous on BA’s part. I make a point of never travelling with them because of shoddy treatment my family and I received in the past, and I can’t see this changing in the future.

  22. Hieronymus Grexx says:

    Good thing this didn’t happen to a real celebrity or someone with genuine talent, otherwise I’d be upset.

  23. hmm says:

    he looks kinda cute with blond hair!!
    improvement for sure 🙂

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