The UK and Ireland’s largest union, Unite today (Tuesday 6 August) called for an inquiry into toxic cabin air and fume events on board jet airliners following yesterday’s (Monday 5 August) fume event on British Airways flight BA422 from London Heathrow to Valencia.

Demanding health and safety guarantees from British Airways for its members, Unite pointed to an analysis by toxic cabin air campaigners that suggests the same plane involved in yesterday’s incident suffered two prior fume events in June leading to the aircraft being grounded.

The analysis of industry sources also suggests that were over 40 fume events in June this year. Warning that this was just the tip of the ‘iceberg’ Unite called on the airline industry to ‘come clean’ over toxic cabin air and ‘clean up’ its act by using safer oil to lubricate jet engines and fitting cabin air filters on board planes.

Unite is currently supporting 51 high court actions against five UK airlines after independent expert evidence concluded that the air in most commercial airline cabins can cause irreversible neurological damage and chronic illness among susceptible individuals.

The union backed claims allege that expert medical evidence shows long term exposure to cabin air or to high dose ‘fume events’ can lead to pilots and crew members developing chronic ill health and life threatening conditions.

The expert evidence for the court, relied upon in the claims supported by Unite, reveals how fumes from jet engine bleed air used to pressurise airline cabins contains a mix of toxic compounds including organophosphates and TCP.

The 51 court cases involve pilots and cabin crew working for easyJet, British Airways, Thomas Cook, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic. Unite is urging members involved in a fume event to get in touch and report it to its fume event register here.

Commenting Unite assistant general secretary for legal affairs Howard Beckett said: “This latest fume event is deeply alarming. British Airways has some serious questions to answer regarding the safety of the aircraft, in addition to providing health and safety guarantees for our cabin crew members.

“Far too often fume events like these go unreported and are brushed under the carpet by the airline industry. This latest fume event only came to light because members of the media were on board the flight.

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

“Independent expert evidence concludes that air on board 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.

“We need a public inquiry into the extent of fume events and toxic cabin air. The airline industry must start to take responsibility and clean up the cabin air on jet planes.

“We would urge anyone involved in a fume event to log it on our fume event register.”


For more information journalists only please contact Alex Flynn Unite head of media and campaigns on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869 

Notes to editors:

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.