Alaska Airlines Flight Attendants Sue Boeing After Being Exposed to Toxic Fumes
Almost exactly two years after four flight attendants became ill while working on a flight traveling from Boston to San Diego, the flight attendants have filed a lawsuit against Boeing, saying a design defect in their aircraft exposed them to toxic fumes, resulting in long-term health problems.
The way most Boeing aircraft are designed, cabins are pressurized by bleeding outside air into the cabin through the plane’s engines. But if a seal in the engine leaks, the air can mix with burning oil and cause toxic fumes to make their way into the cabin. The flight attendants’ lawsuit alleges Boeing has known for decades that this type of ventilation can potentially be dangerous, but hasn’t completely stopped using it (although Boeing’s 787 plane doesn’t use this type of ventilation). Their lawsuit cites a 2007 e-mail written by a Boeing engineer, who tried to do something about the design issue, which says, “Bottom line is I think we are looking for a tombstone before anyone with any horsepower is going to take interest.”
On July 12, 2013, the four flight attendants were working on Alaska Airlines flight 769, a Boeing 737 jet, when they became ill after complaining of a strong chemical smell in the cabin. Two of the flight attendants passed out and two others became very sick and disoriented. The flight made an emergency landing in Chicago and the flight attendants were rushed to hospitals. One of the flight attendants, Vanessa Woods, says she was perfectly healthy when she got on the flight, but hasn’t been the same since. The flight attendants say they are suffering from long-term health problems including tremors, extreme headaches, gastrointestinal problems, memory problems, and tremors as a result of being exposed to toxic fumes on the job, making it difficult for them to return to work.
The flight attendants are unaware of any passengers who have reported health problems as a result of being exposed to the toxic fumes. However, this could be explained by the fact that the flight attendants had spent more time on the plane than the passengers. It’s also possible the toxins could have risen higher in the cabin air, so the flight attendants would have been exposed to the toxins more since they would have been standing and moving around the cabin as part of their jobs.
Although Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says the air in airplane cabins is just as safe the air in an office or a home, there were 900 incidents involving fumes in the cabin between 1990 and 2010. This isn’t the first time Boeing has been sued over health problems related to fumes in the cabin. In 2011, Boeing settled a similar lawsuit brought on by a flight attendant working for American Airlines.
The flight attendants have the support of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) at Alaska Airlines. Jeffrey Peterson, president of the AFA released a statement saying, “We support our fellow flight attendants in their efforts to seek justice after breathing in contaminated air on board the aircraft. In fact, AFA has been fighting for cleaner cabin air for decades while the industry has refused to acknowledge the problem.”