(WSVN) - Airline insiders are sounding the alarm, saying the air on planes has literally made them sick, and it has nothing to do with COVID. 7’s Karen Hensel has our special assignment report, “Toxic Takeoff?”
Planes soaring through the South Florida sky are a wonder to watch from the ground.
But it is what we can’t see while flying that has current and former employees speaking out to 7News.
Capt. Tristan Loraine, former airline pilot: “This really is an industry problem, but it is a problem that dates back to the ’50s.”
Capt. Tristan Loraine is a former airline pilot.
Tristan Loraine: “I started to feel lethargic, mentally slow, and I turned around to the co-pilot and said, ‘Look, I don’t really feel 100%,’ and he says, ‘I’m glad you mentioned that, ’cause I don’t feel very sharp, either.'”
On a flight from France to England in 2004, Loraine says he and his co-pilot almost passed out in the cockpit.
Tristan Loraine: “We put on emergency oxygen, and we landed. The fire crew came on board, and they said, ‘You can tell the air’s contaminated.'”
Two South Florida flight attendants also agreed to talk with us about their more recent scares in the air. They asked we not show their faces.
Flight Attendant #1: “We started to feel nauseated and about to pass out, and all three of us went to the back of the plane and got on oxygen.”
Flight attendant #2: “I’ve had at least four severe incidents that have caused crew members to get sick, some including passengers as well.”
Both say they have had neurological issues from the contaminated air.
Flight attendant #1: “I’ve experienced myself a lot of fatigue, low blood pressure, various tumors, seizures and permanent tremors.”
Karen Hensel: “Do you feel you’re slowly being poisoned?”
Flight attendant #1: “Yes, and have been for some time. Absolutely.”
So what’s causing this?
The air we breathe when we fly is pumped into the plane through the jet engines.
Heated oil can sometimes leak and contaminate the cabin air with toxic gas. It is known as a fume event, or aerotoxic syndrome.
Flight attendant #1: “They call it ‘dirty sock smell.’ Roughly half of the flight attendants at my airline have had some sort of neurotoxic exposure.”
The Los Angeles Times analyzed two years of federal aviation reports. The newspaper found “362 fume events … with nearly 400 pilots, flight attendants and passengers receiving medical attention.”
Flight attendant #1: “The companies don’t want the public to know about this.”
Those we spoke with say the airline industry and federal government have known about this problem for decades. And the concerns are being aired in lawsuits — including one where two other Florida flight attendants call this problem the “dirty little secret of the airline industry.”
A new documentary directed by Loraine, “American 965,” takes these safety concerns much further.
Clip from “American 965”: “The reports clearly show the left engine had an oil leak, and that’s vital evidence.”
The flight took off from Miami and crashed in Colombia on Dec. 20, 1995.
Michelle Dussan, survived plane crash: “I was a kid. It was my first time flying.”
Michelle Dussan and her father are two of only four who survived the crash that killed 159 passengers and crew members.
Michelle Dussan, translating her father, Gonzalo Dussan: “Everyone started shouting because the plane starts to vibrate very strongly.”
The crash was officially blamed on pilot error, but Capt. Loraine believes there is more to the story.
Tristan Loraine: “These were two of the best pilots that American Airlines probably had. Our research very much points to the fact that the crew may well have been partially incapacitated or impaired.”
In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a safety alert advising airlines to “…enhance flight crew procedures…” for fumes in flight.
Still, the agency says, “…studies have shown cabin air is as good as or better than the air found in offices and homes.”
These airline employees are not convinced.
Flight attendant #1: “It is a problem that the industry faces, and it’s a problem that can be fixed.”
Flight attendant #2: “I think it’s time for this to be put to an end.”
Unless and until that happens, these sky-high concerns remain up in the air.
7News asked American Airlines about the former pilot’s documentary. While they did not comment directly on the film, the airline did say they have taken an “industry leading approach to cabin air quality” and review all “odor events.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
American Airlines’ full statement to 7News:
“Ensuring the safety of our customers and team members is the top priority for American Airlines. We are deeply committed to providing a safe travel experience throughout every step of the travel journey, including onboard our aircraft. Together with our regulatory and Association partners, including APA, APFA, IAM and TWU, American has taken an industry leading approach to cabin air quality. We encourage thorough reporting of all odor events so we can review and address them immediately. Those efforts include rigorous review of every reported odor event, as well as cross-functional working groups, which involve our union partners, that meet regularly and are focused on ensuring the highest possible cabin air quality standards.”
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