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Toxic cabin air

Breathing in toxic cabin air on an aeroplane can cause a number of health issues.

Exposure to toxic cabin air (sometimes known as 'aerotoxic syndrome') is most commonly associated with cabin crew staff but it can affect anyone travelling on an aeroplane. Frequent flyers are most at risk because there is more chance of repeat exposure to harmful toxins.

To make flying at high altitudes comfortable for staff and passengers, a supply of warm, compressed air is needed. In most modern aircrafts, this supply comes from a plane’s jet engine using a process known as ‘bleed air’, which is then mixed with recirculated cabin air.

Currently, the only aircraft model that does not bleed air from its engines is the Boeing 787.

In the event of an engine oil leak or a break in the seal that keeps the oil and air apart, fumes and chemicals can make their way, often undetected, into the aircraft cabin through the ventilation system. If a seal suddenly fails, it causes a ‘fume event’ which sees significant levels of oil contaminating the bleed air and smoke entering the cabin.

Common signs of a fume event include:

  • A petrol-like or musty smell in the cabin air
  • A bluish haze or misting of the air
  • A high number of people suddenly coughing
  • Passengers or staff feeling unwell or falling ill shortly after flying

Commonly reported symptoms of exposure to toxic cabin air include:

  • Sore throat and cough
  • Nose bleeds
  • Migraine headache
  • Gastro-intestinal symptoms including nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Muscle aches
  • Rashes or itchy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sudden rise in blood pressure

Commonly reported neurological symptoms of exposure to toxic cabin air include:

  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Confusion and cognitive dysfunction
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks

Toxic cabin air compensation claims are often more complex than other types of industrial disease claims and need specialist legal expertise. If you are experiencing symptoms associated with exposure to toxic cabin air, Unite Legal Services has dedicated industrial disease solicitors that can help you or a member of your family to secure the compensation you deserve.

Unite the Union is calling on the airline industry to monitor cabin air and to conduct an independent inquiry so that the dangers can be assessed and investigated openly.

Click here to visit Unite’s dedicated fume event registration page and fill in your details* if you have recognised a fume event incident on board an aeroplane.

*Please note that by completing the form you are not registering a claim.

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