Five UK airlines sued over toxic cabin air including British Airways and easyJet

EasyJet, British Airways, Thomas Cook, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic all face legal action

Helen Coffey
Friday 29 March 2019 13:52 GMT
Toxic air in cabins is a contentious issue
Toxic air in cabins is a contentious issue (Getty)

Five of the UK’s leading airlines face legal action over toxic air in aircraft cabins.

EasyJet, British Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic have all been served lawsuits by the union Unite, with a total of 51 cases to be heard.

Court actions involve pilots and cabin crew who claim to have suffered chronic illness as a result of being exposed to toxic fumes.

Unite is backing the suits after independent expert evidence judged that the air in most commercial plane cabins could cause irreversible neurological damage and long-term ill health in those who were already susceptible.

Four of the lawsuits involve pilots while the rest are being brought by members of cabin crew.

It could take up to a year before they’re heard in court.

“Independent expert evidence concludes that air onboard jet planes can contain a toxic mix of chemicals and compounds that potentially damage the nervous system and may lead to chronic irreversible health problems in susceptible individuals,” said Unite assistant general secretary for legal services, Howard Beckett.

“The airline industry cannot continue to hide from the issue of toxic cabin air whilst placing the health and safety of air crew at risk.

“Unite will use every avenue, including calling for a public inquiry and pursuing legal action, to get the airline industry to take responsibility and clean up the cabin air on jet planes.

“This must include using different oils to lubricate jet engines, better monitoring of cabin air, installing air filters and manufacturing planes that bring compressed air straight from the atmosphere.

He added: “It may result in additional financial cost to industry, but that cost bears no resemblance to the value of cabin crew health and safety.”

Airlines have been quick to deny the charges.

A British Airways spokesperson told The Independent: “We would never operate an aircraft if we believed it posed a health or safety risk to our customers or crew.

“None of the substantial research conducted over many years into cabin air quality has shown that exposure to cabin air causes long-term ill health.

“In recent research commissioned by the regulator, the European Aviation Safety Agency, their thorough investigations concluded that the air quality on board aircraft was similar or better than that observed in normal indoor environments.”

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EasyJet said in a statement: “EasyJet takes any health concerns raised by its crew seriously. However, aviation regulators and manufacturers around the world have looked at this issue and found no proof that long-term health issues arise from cabin air quality.

“On occasion so-called fume events can occur. Research has shown that in some instances this can cause some minor acute symptoms, but no link with long term health effects has been proved.”

Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic released the following statement: “The health, safety and well-being of our passengers and crew is always our priority. As with all British airlines we operate to the strict regulations and standards set out by the UK CAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency.”

Airlines UK, the association of UK airlines, said: “UK airlines take health concerns seriously and each complies fully with the latest requirements on air quality and air-conditioning.

“None of the substantial research conducted over many years into cabin air quality has shown that exposure to cabin air causes long-term ill health, and recent research commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency concluded that the air quality on board aircraft was similar or better to normal indoor environments.”

It comes two years after The Independent reported on a study that claimed contaminated air supply on planes is causing short and long-term health problems.

The study, published in World Health Organisation journal Public Health Panorama and conducted by the University of Stirling in conjunction with the University of Ulster, said there was a clear link between exposure to air contaminated by oil and other aircraft fluids, and a plethora of health issues.

It looked at over 200 aircrew (pilots and cabin crew) who had been exposed to a number of substances through aircrafts’ contaminated air and found a pattern of acute and chronic symptoms, ranging from headaches and dizziness to breathing and vision problems.

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