British Airways has been warned to stop “downplaying” potentially “toxic fumes”in plane cabins.
It comes after a British Airways flight from San Francisco to Heathrow had an emergency landing last week when crew members reportedly began vomiting mid-air.
The airline later described it as an “odour event” despite flight crews and air traffic control saying the incident involved “toxic gas-like fumes”.
Another such incident occurred on a British Airways plane to Los Angeles a day later on October 26, according to the Unite union.
British Airways again put it down to an “odour event”- but Unite understands a full fume drill was performed on the flight deck – which would have involved the crew putting on oxygen masks.
The union is now calling on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to release figures on fume incidents and investigate how airlines classify “fume events”.
It has also urged people who have been involved in a fume event to record it on its dedicated fume register or phone its hotline number 03330 146569.
“It is clear from all the reports we’ve received and the exchanges between the flight deck and air traffic control that the incident on board the diverted BA flight from San Francisco to London Heathrow was more serious than a mere “odour event”.
Downplaying serious toxic fume events on board aircraft as “odour events” smacks of spin and an attempt to manipulate official statistics to downplay how widespread the problem really is in the industry.
Fume events and continued exposure to contaminated cabin air can lead to serious ill health, with long-term debilitating effects on people’s well-being.”
A British Airways spokesperson said: “We continue to conduct thorough and detailed investigations which we share with the CAA. We always encourage our people to report any potential incident to allow us to investigate them.”
In 2012, former BA pilot Richard Westgate died after repeated exposure to contaminated cabin air, according to his parents.
Judith and Peter Westgate believe their son was the victim of “aerotoxic syndrome” – a condition the aviation industry does not recognise.
The coroner who investigated Richard’s death, Sheriff Stanhope Payne, was so concerned about the evidence he encountered that he wrote to BA and the CAA to warn that there is a risk of future deaths unless action is taken.