Aircraft Fume Event; A Passenger's Story! - Open Letter


Commissioner Bulc (DG Mobility & Transport);

Mr Ky (Executive Director – EASA);

The UK Secretary of State for Transport; The Right Honourable Patrick McLoughlin MP or his Successor; and

Mr Andrew Haines (CEO - UK CAA)

I have had the pleasure of meeting with colleagues from both sides of the Cabin Air Quality divide in Brussels and realise that more now than ever, the opposite ends of the debate are even further apart.

Nonetheless, I found that within the general cohort, there exists a body of people who are determined to examine, discuss and debate this serious issue in the spirit of respect.

What is missing however from this discussion is a more open access/inclusion to politicians and civil servants, both on a National and European level.  You will know from my previous Open Letter to you (still waiting to hear from you), that there are many issues on flight safety that need addressing, but Cabin Air Quality is probably the most serious of them all!

There is an existing mantra that tells ‘interested’ parties, that they should gravitate their opinion toward the ‘officially’ recognised bodies. From this organisation’s perspective, those same ‘Consumer’ bodies are remote from the day-to-day issues that affect Consumers and have demonstrated their unwillingness to engage or become active on important issues. It is for this reason that we place ourselves at the forefront on what is one of the most important travel debates of our time.

It is imperative that you understand how these fume events affect individual Consumers. To help you, I am going to relate a conversation I have had with one Consumer who wishes to remain anonymous. She is one of a number of UK holidaymakers we have spoken to recently, who have been affected by fumes on their flights. The range of observations and physical complaints were as diverse as you would expect them to be, but her story reveals much about how the Consumer is the forgotten element within this debate, whatever about the public protestations of the Authorities!

Ms X told me:

“As I got onto the plane I noticed a smell; I thought it might be the condensation you sometimes see but I couldn’t say exactly what it was. I know that I was not the only one as other people on the plane had noticed that there was a funny smell and they were talking about it.

I would say that we were about 10 or 15 minutes into our flight when I started to see smoke in the right-hand side of the cabin. After a few minutes it got worse and people around me started to panic and become very anxious. I could see the cabin crew and they weren’t reacting at all and just kept telling people that everything was ‘fine’.

As the minutes went by the smoke got worse and the back of my throat became uncomfortable and my eyes started to water. It was at this point that I noticed that the cabin crew had disappeared.

After a few minutes, the Captain came on over the loudspeaker and told us all that there was nothing to worry about, it was only condensation and would disappear.

The problem was it did not disappear and in fact got worse!

At this point I thought I was going to die. People were coughing and spluttering, children were crying; I can only describe the scene around me as being chaotic – people were terrified and were shouting for help.

After the Captain had spoken to us, the cabin crew re-appeared and started to hand out towels to the passengers to place over their mouths.

All the time I felt that the problem was just getting worse; I thought that there was a massive problem with the plane and they were just not telling us what was going on.

I saw people breathing through their towels and around me; everyone thought we were going to die.

After a while one stewardess told us that the smoke was coming from the engine, but another came along and told us that it was nothing more than condensation and that it was not serious!

People simply did not believe what was being said and the passengers started to demand that the aircraft was returned to the airport; I felt that we were being treated like fools. I think at one stage one of the passengers was banging on the cockpit door; I presume to try and persuade the pilot to go back to the airport.

I don’t know how many minutes it took but I remember the pilot coming over the loudspeaker telling us that he was returning to the airport; I cannot tell you how relieved I was to be on the ground again!

When we got to the airport I thought that someone would talk to us; how wrong I was – there was a total lack of information – it was awful. People in the terminal were still struggling but there was no medical care.

I thought that it was terrible that no-one was there to meet us; no-one came and gave us any advices.

I would say that it was about 30-40 minutes before a representative came to see us; people were very angry and kept asking what had happened to them. The only answer they got was that there was condensation in the aircraft. No-one offered any medical advices.

I was glad to get back home; at the time I was frightened but I would say that I am now terrified of ever flying again. For me it is a question of trust and I don’t know how I will deal with that.

Since this flight I have been sick; I have suffered with the following problems:

  1. I suffer with waves of nausea;
  2. I have regular headaches;
  3. I find that I now veer to one-side when I am walking;
  4. I have tingling in my legs and arms;
  5. I suffer with dizziness;
  6. I find that I have problems with my short-term memory;
  7. Psychologically I don’t want to get on a plane again;
  8. I find that I am re-living what happened on the plane;
  9. I have a great fear that we risked our lives;
  10. I now suffer with nightmares.”

Ms X is not alone in her experience and it is one, with great respect to the expressions made about passenger safety being paramount, that will be repeated time and time again, unless a more open and universal discussion is set to take place.

So the question’s I pose to you are:

  1. What will you do to ensure that Ms X or other passengers never have to experience anything like this again?
  2. What will you do to promote a ‘Passenger’s Right to Know’?
  3. How will you bring together the divergent opinion on Cabin Air Quality?
  4. Do you have the will to be a world leader on this important topic?

I look forward to hearing from you; you can contact me directly via

Yours Sincerely,


Frank Brehany

Consumer Director


21 April 2015

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