Passengers of British Airways Flight BA286 forced to land in Vancouver late Monday say they have been kept in the dark about why their crew suddenly became ill.
The Airbus A380-800 took off from San Francisco at 7:13 p.m. on Monday and was destined for London Heathrow Airport. But after crew members reported feeling ill, the flight was diverted to Calgary and then to Vancouver International Airport, where it landed shortly before midnight.
Hundreds of passengers had formed a queue at the Vancouver terminal on Tuesday morning to arrange flights home.
“I heard the announcement: ‘Senior cabin crew to the flight deck, immediately,’” said Robin Hunter, a retired police officer from Scotland who had been sitting near an exit on the plane’s upper deck.
“They came around and took everyone’s dinner away before they’d eaten it and said there was a technical problem.”
Passengers were then told the plane would be diverted but were provided “very little information,” Hunter said. “Subsequently, they told us that several of the crew had become sick and that there was a ‘fume event.’ That’s how they put it.”
Glen Delaine of London said he was preparing to sleep when a captain paged for a senior flight attendant.
Seatbelt signs lit up and 20 minutes later passengers were told the plane was being diverted to Calgary because of “some flight attendants getting sick,” Delaine said. “We couldn’t see any smoke. The cabin pressure was fine.”
After 10 minutes they were informed Calgary couldn’t handle the plane’s unexpected arrival and would instead land in Vancouver, he said. Firefighters and paramedics boarded the plane soon after landing.
Delaine said he’d been monitoring social media and news reports because British Airways provided little information about the situation.
There were 400 passengers on the flight, British Airways spokeswoman Caroline Niven said in an emailed reply to questions. Asked about the report of a “fume event,” Niven said an investigation is underway and will look into reports of an odour onboard.
British Airways spokeswoman Michele Kropf said no passengers were taken to hospital and said initial media reports that the crew suffered smoke inhalation were incorrect. As a precaution, 25 members of the cabin crew were checked at local hospitals.
Vancouver Coastal Health’s Gavin Wilson said 25 people were assessed at hospitals in Vancouver, Richmond and Delta.
“British Airways tells us they were all crew members, no passengers,” he said. All 25 were discharged within hours, said Wilson, noting initial reports that the crew had been treated for smoke inhalation were being revised.
Gary Beckford said he and other passengers on the lower deck were told “something was going on upstairs — some smoke — and then they said the cabin crew wasn’t feeling well.”
But Ruben Chocon, who was seated upstairs, said he didn’t notice anything concerning and actually heard there was a problem on the lower deck. Chocon said he’d been sleeping and woke up to hear about the diversion to Calgary.
“There was sort of an atmosphere of stress — we really didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “My little brother started to panic, started to cry.”
Donna Lee said passengers were provided accommodation for the night but found it difficult to rebook a flight.
“We were told we had to ring British Airways at 4 o’clock (Tuesday) morning for a flight, but when we rang British Airways at 4 o’clock, nobody had a clue,” Lee said. “Nobody actually told us very much at all, which is why we’re all here and a bit angry.”
In a statement, British Airways said: “We are sorry for the disruption to our customers’ journeys, but the safety and well-being of our customers and crew is always our top priority.”
Niven said factors such as the nature of the situation onboard and resources available on the ground are taken into consideration when choosing a diversion airport.
“The overriding factor is always the safety of all customers and crew,” she said. “Vancouver was deemed the best option.”
British Airways took delivery of its first A380 at London Heathrow in 2013. The airline has 12 A380s in its fleet. The A380 is the world’s largest passenger airliner, capable of carrying 469 passengers.
In 2013, AirlineRatings.com ranked the A380 as one of the safest aircraft for travellers. The Aviation Safety Network reports no fatalities on any A380 since the airliner made its first flight in 2005.
In September, pilots of an Asiana Airlines Airbus A380 operating a Los Angeles-Seoul flight returned to L.A. after receiving a cargo-hold smoke alert.
In May, a Qantas Airways Airbus A380 travelling from Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth experienced a “smoke event” after a mobile phone’s lithium battery was crushed by a seat mechanism.
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