Clamour for action on 'aerotoxic' air travel g...

Clamour for action on ‘aerotoxic’ air travel grows, public inquiry must follow, says Unite

29 January 2016

The revelation that a second flight, in as many days, was forced to turn back to the UK following an outbreak of sickness among the cabin crew (see link below to the Evening Standard) has added further weight to calls for a public inquiry into the damage caused to cabin crew by ‘aerotoxic syndrome’, said Unite, the UK’s largest union, today (Friday 29 January).

The union considers the flights, one to South Africa and one to the US, are further evidence that leaks from aircraft engines are finding their way into the cabins causing the crew to feel sick but may also be further impairing the crew’s health.

Unite is pursuing the 60 cases of individuals who have symptoms consistent with the syndrome, and is fighting too on behalf of a deceased cabin crew member.

Commenting on the recent aircraft incidences Howard Beckett Unite’s executive legal director said:

“The case for a full scale public inquiry into aerotoxic syndrome builds daily. This is the second such incident in recent days - the aviation industry simply cannot continue to ignore the clamour for action.

“But we also want manufacturers to take action now. The technology behind the circulation of air within aircraft has not moved on much at all since the 1950s meaning that fume events are happening with regularity. Repeated exposure to these ‘events’ is what we believe leads to aerotoxic syndrome – so we say to the industry, sort this out because people are being put at risk.

“It is worth noting that organic phosphates are found in engine oils, these are live threatening poisons that are used in chemical warfare. That is why it is beholden on all parties not to brush this off. Let’s have the public inquiry where this issue can be considered fully and all necessary actions taken thereafter.

“Unite is determined to get action to address this public safety menace. We will not have passengers and our members put at risk so we will not rest until the industry acts to eliminate the risk of aerotoxicity, and that those who have had their lives or their loved ones lives blighted by this syndrome get the justice they deserve.”

Unite is urging cabin crew and the public to get in contact, as it believes they may be suffering from the syndrome, via the union’s free helpline on: 03330 146 569.


For further information, please contact the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065 or email

Notes to editors
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.

The latest incidence of cabin crew sickness is reported in The Evening Standard.

What is aerotoxic syndrome?
•    Aerotoxic syndrome is the term given to the illness caused by exposure to contaminated air in jet aircraft.
•    Air enters aircraft through the jet engines, a process known as ‘bleed air’.
•    In this process bleed air contaminants can become mixed in with the air due to failures in the seals within the engines, and this results in fumes or smoke entering the cabin (and is known in the industry as ‘a fume event’).
•    Such contaminants include engine oil, hydraulic fuel and anti-freezing fluid, all of which contain a number of harmful chemicals.
•    Symptoms which can arise from exposure include fatigue, blurred vision, headaches, memory loss and nausea to name but a few.

Recent developments
•    A senior coroner recently issued a warning to the industry urging action to avoid further deaths caused by toxic fumes in cabin air.
•    Unite is acting for the family of Matthew Bass with a preliminary hearing scheduled with the Coroner for this summer.

The problem
•    There has been knowledge that heated jet engine oil causes problems since 1954.
•    The airline industry fails to recognise the problem.
•    There is insufficient monitoring and research.

New technology
•    The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner removes the problem because instead of bleed air it has a system whereby air is supplied directly from the atmosphere and not through the engines.