Toxic fumes found on planes, flight crews want action

Toxic fumes found on planes, flight crews want action

Pilots and flight attendants are reporting toxic fumes being released into planes. The accidental release of toxins has caused flight crew members to become sick and some hospitalized. A year later, some of those affected are still off work, looking for answers and want something done about it.

A month-long investigation by WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina revealed 30 US Airways aircraft in the last year have been affected.”I’m talking because I think passengers need to know,” said one veteran flight attendant to WBTV who came forward under the condition we protected her identity. “I felt like I had to come forward for the health of myself and my co-workers.”

Apparently, toxins produced from the oil in aircraft engines are the culprit. I’m thinking of that smell that fills the cabin as the plane prepares for departure. Airlines say it’s harmless. One US Airways pilot disagrees and is concerned.

“Toxins produced from oil in the aircraft engines have caused a lot of problems with our industry,” Captain Jame Ray, a spokesperson for the U.S. Airways Pilot Association and a working pilot told WBTV. “Pilots and flight attendants alike have been sent to the hospital on multiple occasions. Some remain in the hospital. We have pilots who have lost their FAA certificate because of exposure to these toxins. So it is certainly a concern we have.”

The investigation confirmed a January 2010 case where crew members were hospitalized and are still not back at work. Another case in November of 2010, ruled not toxic fumes but a power issue at the gate resulted in aircraft crew off work too.

Airline flight crew members interviewed were quick to point out that this sort of thing does not happen on every flight but that all airlines are affected. The issue seems to be more widespread than the risk of swine flu once was and as airlines regain a more healthy financial picture, others are digging in to this toxic fumes problem more.

Looking a bit deeper into the issue of toxic fumes found on planes, a 2009 survey of pilots and crew by the UK’s The Telegraph indicated that one in seven of 789 British airline staff surveyed had to take more than a month’s sick leave in the previous year.

Further investigation revealed “high levels of a dangerous toxin on several planes. Of 31 swab samples taken secretly from the aircraft cabins of popular airlines, 28 were found to contain high levels of tricresyl phosphate (TCP), an organophosphate contained in modern jet oil as an anti-wear additive, which can lead to drowsiness, respiratory problems and neurological illnesses.”

While all flights may not be affected, it happens with more frequency than one might imagine. Aerotoxic Syndrome’s YouTube channel stacks up evidence of these fume events longer than planes lined up at LAX on a Friday afternoon.

US Airways increases baggage fees

US Airways increases baggage feesHere we go again. On the heels of greatly improved profits, US Airways has announced an increase of up to 80% on the charge for overweight bags.

In addition to the base price for checked bags of $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second, the additional fees for overweight bags are increasing. Overweight bags that weigh between 50 and 70 pounds will see the price increase from $50 to $90. Supersized bags that weigh more than 70 pounds will go from $100 to a whopping $175.

Will other airlines follow US Air’s lead? Probably. In January 2010, Continental matched Delta’s baggage fee increase and American matched United’s fees signaling a green light for others to follow.

At the time, travel expert Arthur Frommer noted “Any hope that the big airlines might move more gently in adopting such fees has been lost”. Looks like he was right.

Increases in baggage fees might not be all air travelers have to worry about on luggage either. The FAA, burdened by reduced demand for air travel since 9-11 expects an estimated $25 billion decline in revenue over the next six years according to a government report released last week.MarketWatch.com reports “Revenues declined early in the decade because of a series of largely unforeseen events, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, that reduced the demand for air travel, resulting in a steep decline in airline industry revenue,” wrote Gerald Dillingham, the director of civil aviation studies at the GAO.

The new US Air fees go into effect, and it says this on their website, “if you bought a ticket on or after February 1 for travel on or after March 1, 2011. They may want to take another look at that policy and/or ask cruise lines about the wisdom of making a retroactive service fee.

Six cruise lines ended up having to refund $40 million in fuel surcharge fees charged to cruise passengers after they had booked their cruises. I’m not offering legal advice here but anyone who booked between February 1st and 9th might have a case.

Regardless, it’s probably time to take another good long look at packing light.

Flickr photo by Deanster1983

Trapped baggage handler yells and screams for attention

trapped baggage handlerPassengers on a US Airways flight at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. got a bit of a fright when they heard yelling and screaming coming from under their seats.

They alerted a flight attendant, who mentioned the odd noises to the pilot. As it turns out, one of the baggage handlers had been left behind in the locked hold, and was trying to get some attention before the plane departed.

Thankfully for the trapped ramp worker, the plane would not have taken off with him locked away, as he was also responsible for driving the tug required for pushing back from the gate.

Once he was freed from the hold, he got into the tug and continued his day. Still, if you thought your airplane seat was a tight and uncomfortable, I’m sure a cold ride in the cramped lugagge hold of an Embraer E-170 regional jet isn’t much better.

[Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]

United Continental and US Airways boost revenue – only one of them actually profits

continental us airways revenueThe aviation world is a funny beast – one in which losing money has come to be expected, and losses are all part of “doing business”. The past couple of years have been exceptionally tough for the US legacy carriers – but big changes in how they do business seem to be paying off.

US Airways earned $28 million on revenue of $2.91 billion – up nearly 11%. United Continental issued its first numbers after finalizing the merger of United Airlines and Continental Airways, and impressed analysts with a 15% increase in revenue – $8.43 billion. Of that amount, no profit was left, and the airline closed the quarter with a $325 million loss – but since this was less than analysts had expected, losing “just” $325 million was considered good news.

The cause of these jumps in revenue can be traced back to a number of changes – the first of course pointing to the most annoying one – fees. US Airways generated $388 million in baggage fees alone in the third quarter of 2010. United Continental took home $497 million in the same period. And yes – this is just on baggage fees in one quarter!

Another important change is one that helped reduce costs very quickly – flying less. Airlines removed non-profitable routes from their networks, and reduced flights on others. The end result is something every airline executive likes to see – full planes, higher fares and lots of people paying luggage fees.

In removing routes, airlines also paid close attention to the type of planes being used – less efficient planes were taken out of service and replace by more efficient models. By doing this, airlines managed to use 11.9% less fuel compared to the same period in 2009.

Bottom line – things are looking up for the airlines and we all need to realize that fares will go up, fees will go up and flying will be just as uncomfortable as ever.

[Photo: Getty Images]

Mystery bag gets passenger yanked from Boston flight

Boston passenger pulled from US Airways flightWas Ognjen Milatovic a nutty professor? Only time – and the legal process – will tell. The University of North Florida professor of mathematics and statistics put a carry-on in the overhead bin … and his fellow passengers said it was making strange noises. Then, he wouldn’t get off his phone and take his seat when told to do so by the crew.

So, he was turned over to the Massachusetts State Police.

Milatovic was arrested in Boston and then released on his own recognizance after being pulled from the US Airways flight on Monday. The mystery luggage was inspected, and according to the Associated Press, “no threat was found.”

[photo by purpleslog via Flickr]