Britain's largest union, Unite, warned British Airways against downplaying harmful fume events on board aircraft by reclassifying them as ‘odour events’, saying that it could mean the true number of fume incidents across the airline industry is ‘far higher’.
The warning comes as more details emerge of last week's in-flight diversion to Vancouver of the British Airways flight from San Francisco to London Heathrow because of toxic fumes entering the cabin.
The airline has described the event on 25 October 2016, which led to crew members vomiting, donning oxygen masks and being taken to hospital, as an ‘odour event’ despite exchanges between the flight crew and air traffic control stating they had an incident involving ‘toxic fumes, toxic-gas like fumes’. The full exchanges have been released online and can be listened to in full here.
Unite understands that a separate fume event occurred the following day (26 October) on board a British Airways flight BA 269 from Heathrow to Los Angeles, which the airline reportedly dismissed as an ‘odour event’. Unite understands that a full fume drill was performed on the flight deck, which would have involved crew putting on oxygen masks.
Unite, representing over 20,000 cabin crew, has been at the forefront of the campaign over toxic cabin air and aerotoxic syndrome and is calling for a public inquiry into cabin air quality.
The union is also calling on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to release figures on fume incidents and investigate how airlines classify ‘fume events’, as well as urging people who have been involved in a fume event to record it on Unite’s dedicated fume register or phone its hotline number 03330 146569.
Unite director of legal services, Howard Beckett, said: “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 toxic 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 urge the CAA to investigate and for people involved in fume events to use our register or phone our hotline.”
For more information on toxic cabin air, visit our dedicated toxic cabin air page.