British Airways has been accused of downplaying an incident that left 25 cabin crew in hospital after toxic fumes leaked into the cabin of a San Francisco-bound flight.
The plane was forced to divert to Calgary after the pilot told air traffic control that “toxic gas-type fumes” had filled the cabin – a recording of the conversation has been released and can be heard below. The union Unite, which represents more than 20,000 cabin crew, said that British Airways called the incident an “odour event”, misrepresenting, it said, the seriousness of the situation.
The union says that BA is attempting to spin the nature of such instances and “manipulate” statistics “to downplay how widespread the problem really is in the industry”. It said that it could mean the true number of times cabin crew and passengers are forced to breathe contaminated cabin air could be much higher than recorded.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has always maintained that cabin air is safe and that there is no evidence of long-term health effects.
But Unite says that the industry is undermining efforts to protect cabin crew from the potential risks.
It says that the day after the San Francisco flight was diverted, another BA flight to Los Angeles suffered a fume event, where crew initiated the drill and put on oxygen masks, only the airline reportedly “dismissed [it] as an ‘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,” said Howard Beckett, Unite’s director of legal services.
“Fume events and continued exposure to contaminated cabin air can lead to serious ill health with long term debilitating effects on people’s wellbeing.
“Brushing these serious incidents under the carpet is shameful and we urged the CAA to investigate and for the people involved in fume events to use our register or phone our hotline.”
Unite says it is currently pursuing 67 legal cases against UK airlines on behalf of former and serving cabin crew who say they have been affected by contaminated cabin air.
A spokesperson for BA said: “Safety is always our priority. There has been no change in the way in which we investigate reports of this nature.
“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.”
A spokesperson for the CAA said: “Our priority is always the safety of passengers and crew and we continue to work with airlines, manufacturers and international regulators to drive improvements in safety standards across the industry.
“We understand the concerns that have been raised about cabin air quality and we take very seriously any suggestions that people have suffered ill health from their experience of aviation.
“We rely on guidance from scientific experts based on the results of a number of independent studies and evidence reviews – including Government commissioned research. The overall conclusion of those studies is that there is no positive evidence of a link between exposure to contaminants in cabin air and possible acute and long-term health effects, although such a link cannot be excluded.
“Accordingly, we continue to support the steps being taken by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which maintains responsibility for approving the safety of aircraft and setting aviation standards for European airlines, and is carrying out further research into cabin air quality.”
Full report here