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Airline accused of ‘downplaying’ toxic fume events

The union Unite has warned British Airways against downplaying harmful fume events on aircraft by reclassifying them as ‘odour events’.

The union says the company’s ‘spin’ could mean the true number of fume incidents across the airline industry is ‘far higher’ than thought. The union was speaking out as more details emerged of the 25 October in-flight diversion to Vancouver of a British Airways flight from San Francisco to London Heathrow after ‘toxic’ fumes entered the cabin.

The incident led to crew members vomiting, donning oxygen masks and being taken to hospital, but the incident was recorded as an ‘odour event’ despite exchanges between the flight crew and air traffic control stating it involved ‘toxic fumes, toxic-gas like fumes’. Unite said it understands that a separate fume event occurred the following day on a British Airways flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles, which the airline reportedly dismissed as an ‘odour event’.

The union said it understands that a full fume drill was performed on the flight deck, which would have involved crew putting on oxygen masks. Unite has said it is 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.

Unite director of legal services Howard Beckett said: “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. 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.”

TUC Risks
November 2016