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Flight attendants say air inside planes can be toxic

WSB-TV has learned that three airline crews in Atlanta in the past year had emergency medical care after they say fumes on board their planes made them sick.

The director of Georgia's Poison Control Center told WSB-TV’s Tom Regan that the agency received emergency calls three different times in the past year about flight crews falling ill at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

>> Watch the news report here

The jet engines that take you into the air also draw in the air you breathe.

Despite filters, that air sometimes contains invisible fumes that can sicken crews, drawing an emergency response at airports. 

Dr. Gaylord Lopez of the Georgia Poison Control Center told Regan, "We had 13 patients exposed over the past year related to airplane fumes."

He described the symptoms as "coughing, choking, gagging, wheezing, shortness of breath. One felt like they could not breathe anymore."

>> Read more trending news

Lopez said in one case, a ground supervisor also became ill.

"They went to investigate. They breathed the air and they got sickened as well," Lopez explained.

Pressurized cabin air is drawn through the jet's engines. It’s called bleed air. In the engine's oil is an additive called Tricresyl phosphate, or TCP.

If there's a leak or other mechanical issue, fumes from the chemical could circulate into the cabin, affecting passengers, but more often the flight crew.

"I couldn't think. I had nausea. I felt dizzy. I had a headache," said former flight attendant Vanessa Woods.

She said that when she worked for Alaska Airlines, she and three other flight attendants were taken to the hospital after breathing the fumes. The doctor said they had hydrocarbon exposure.

Woods says it has caused neurological issues that have made it impossible for her to work. She and the other flight attendants filed a lawsuit against Boeing, the manufacturer of the plane.

"I want Boeing to make changes. They need to put in sensor alarms, redesign the planes," Woods said.

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In a statement, Boeing told Regan, "The air in our airplane cabins is safe. Boeing's bleed air systems meet all applicable FAA requirements, and an overwhelming body of scientific evidence confirms the safety."

"We know that pilots and flight attendants are getting sick from toxic fumes," Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants told WSB-TV.

Based on a 2016 study from Kansas State University, the flight attendants union estimates there are five fume events each day on airlines worldwide. Most are minor, but the union says there's a risk.

"It's a real concern. Because if a crew member can become incapacitated, and there's a pilot flying the plane, that can be very dangerous to everyone on board," Nelson said.

A WSB-TV investigative producer dug through FAA reports and found more than 100 possible fume events on commercial airlines in the past year. In nine cases, illnesses were reported. The reports filed with the FAA come from a variety of airlines and a variety of planes.

>> ON WSBTV.com: PHOTOS: "The Dirty Dozen" airplanes with the most reported fume events in the past year

"We know that it happened, not only with crews, but passengers that might be closer to the front part of the plane because of the way air circulates and where it starts coming into the plane," Lopez told Regan.

The FAA told WSB-TV that fume events are rare considering the millions of flights in the U.S. every year. The agency also says cabin air is as good or better than the air found in offices or homes.

But the flight's attendants union says more can be done to ensure the safety of the crew and passengers.

“The only way to solve this issue is to build aircraft with alternative air circulation means," Nelson said.

The Boeing 787 is the only commercial plane that doesn't use a bleed-air system.

The flight attendants union says it's working with Congress to require new fume sensors and filters on airplanes. Airbus, like Boeing, says its cabin air is safe.

In response to WSB-TV’s report that Spirit Airlines had 11 out of the top 12 planes with the highest number of reported fume events in the last year, a spokesperson sent the following response:

"Thank you for taking the time to look into this issue. As you heard from the FAA, these events are very rare. To show the rarity of such events, in the time frame you researched (since May 1, 2016), we have had well over 150,000 individual flights, of which 41 have had an odor event. That’s a ratio of 0.000027 of flights. The reason you see more reports of odor events on Spirit aircraft is because we aggressively report our incidents. We have encouraged other airlines to also report their incidents, as well, with the hope of better research and understanding the root causes. While these odor events are very rare, we take each and every incident that takes place on one of our aircraft very seriously. In fact, Spirit is an industry leader in investigating and researching the various causes of these odor events. We have invested substantial dollars on detection equipment to help detect particulates that cause odor events on aircraft. We have also installed a new, more robust air filters on our planes in an effort to reduce the frequency of such events.

"It’s important to note that odor events happen to every airline and every type of aircraft that uses bleed air, and has been an issue in the industry for decades. To call these fume events is mostly hyperbole. There are many reasons the air odor on aircraft can change. It could be because planes are flying through rain clouds and moisture gets into the aircraft's air system; foul odor outside the aircraft that gets through air filters; and yes, it could be because oil or hydraulic fluid odors get past air filters and into the bleed air. All sources of foul odor can be uncomfortable for passengers and crew – but to say these odors are toxic fumes or harmful – is an overstatement. That said, we understand the concern people may have regarding such odors, and that is why Spirit is leading the industry in trying to understand the root causes of the different odor events, with a goal of preventing and hopefully eliminating them in the future."

American Airlines, which also had one plane in the top 12, sent this statement:

"The health and welfare of our crews and customers continues to be our top priority at American Airlines. We take cabin odor issues seriously and have devoted extensive efforts over time, including working with aircraft, engine and auxiliary power unit manufacturers, to address these types of concerns. Our Technical Operations team actively monitors and conducts in-depth inspections whenever a cabin odor event is reported by one of our crewmembers. Our team members are encouraged to report any issues so that we can make improvements to their work environment."

27 injured when Aeroflot plane hits severe turbulence

At least 27 people were injured Monday when an Aeroflot plane traveling from Moscow hit an air pocket while approaching Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, the Russian embassy in Thailand said in a statement.

>> Read more trending news

The injured include 24 Russians and three Thai nationals who suffered injuries ranging from bruises to fractures and broken bones. Four people required surgery, the Russian embassy in Thailand said.

Aeroflot Flight SU270 was about 40 minutes out from Bangkok when it hit “sudden strong short-term turbulence,” the airline said in a statement.

“An experienced crew piloted the flight,” the company said. “However, the turbulence that hit the Boeing 777 was impossible to foresee.”

Aeroflot said crew members were unable to warn passengers before the turbulence because there were no clouds visible or weather radar data indicating that the plane was about to hit the air pocket.

The injured people were not wearing seatbelts, the Russian embassy in Thailand said.

Video posted to social media showed chaos on the flight after the turbulence. A video posted to Instagram by passenger Rostik Rusev showed two people laying in the plane’s aisle and service items strewn across the back of the plane.

"It lasted for about 10 seconds, the plane was being thrown everywhere," Rusev, a Ukrainian-born resident of New Jersey, told CNN. "There was blood on the ceiling, people with broken noses, babies who were hurt, it was horrible. It came out of nowhere. It was like driving a car and a tire suddenly bursts.”

He praised the work of the flight’s crew, telling CNN that they “couldn’t have been more professional and courageous.”

“They were heroes in everything they were doing,” he said.

The plane successfully landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport around 7:40 a.m. local time.

United unveils 10 policy changes, will pay bumped passengers up to $10,000

United Airlines has announced 10 policy changes after a video of passenger David Dao being dragged off a plane went viral earlier this month.

>> Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat

In what may be the biggest change, the airline will now offer travelers as much as $10,000 to relinquish their seats on overbooked flights, up from $1,350, according to Bloomberg.

>> United Airlines passengers describe scene as man dragged off flight

In a Thursday news release, the airline also pledged to take the following actions:

  • “Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.
  • “Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
  • “Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportation to get customers to their final destination.
  • “Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
  • “Provide employees with additional annual training.
  • “Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.
  • “Reduce the amount of overbooking.
  • “Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.
  • “Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a 'no questions asked' policy on lost luggage.”

In a statement, United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized for the incident and said the airline is "taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again."

>> United Airlines changes policy after man dragged from plane

"Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: Our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what's right," Munoz said. "This is a turning point for all of us at United, and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline. Our customers should be at the center of everything we do, and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust."

>> Read more trending news

Read more here.

Giant 3-foot rabbit found dead on United Airlines flight

While still dealing with legal action and negative public relations after a man was forcibly dragged from a flight, United Airlines is now investigating an incident in which a giant rabbit was found dead aboard one of the airline’s international flights.  

>> Read more trending news 

According to the BBC, a nearly 3-foot-long giant rabbit named Simon was traveling from London’s Heathrow airport to Chicago’s O'Hare airport in the cargo space of a United plane on April 19.

The rabbit was being shipped to a new owner in the U.S.

Simon’s breeder, Annette Edwards, from Worcestershire, England, said the rabbit had been seen by a veterinarian hours before the flight. 

“Simon had a vet’s checkup three hours before the flight and was fit as a fiddle,” Edwards told The Sun. “I’ve sent rabbits all around the world and nothing like this has happened before.”

Edwards said the unidentified American buyer is upset.

“I haven’t got a clue who’s to blame, but it’s certainly very weird when Simon was so healthy,” Edwards told CNN.

Simon, a 10-month-old Continental Giant rabbit, was poised to grow to be the world’s largest rabbit, according to NBC News. The largest rabbit on record, as noted by the Guinness World Records, is Simon’s father, a 4-foot-4-inch and 50-pound animal named Darius.

“We were saddened to hear this news. The safety and well-being of all the animals that travel with us is of the utmost importance to United Airlines and our PetSafe team,” the airline said in a statement. “We have been in contact with our customer and have offered assistance. We are reviewing this matter.”

Earlier this month, United Airlines made headlines when a passenger, David Dao, was forcibly removed from a flight after refusing to give up his seat for a United employee on a fully booked flight. United CEO Oscar Munoz said no one would be fired for the incident.

video-air-marshal-leaves-loaded-gun-in-bathroom

Air Marshal Leaves Loaded Gun in Bathroom During Delta Flight

United Airlines wants more time to answer questions about passenger dragging

The CEO of United Airlines has asked for more time to give U.S. senators a full explanation of why a passenger was forcibly dragged off a flight, prompting national outrage.

>>Original story: Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat on flight

Senators on the Commerce, Science and Transportation had given United until April 20 to respond to questions. 

“We are in the process of gathering the full set of facts about this incident and finalizing a thorough review of our policy,” United CEO Oscar Munoz wrote. “We look forward to sharing the full results of this ongoing review and the immediate, concrete actions we will take to better serve our customers with the committee.” 

>> Related: United Airlines passengers describe scene as man dragged off flight

Munoz requested an extension until April 27 to answer the senators, whose April 11 letter asked about the actions of the airline, security and the passenger, David Dao. 

The Chicago Department of Aviation also requested more time to answer questions about the incident. 

 >> Read more trending news

“We’re disappointed that neither United Airlines nor the Chicago Department of Aviation has yet provided substantive answers to the straightforward questions we asked about the forcible removal of a passenger on April 9, 2017,” senators on the committee said in a joint statement. “Getting answers for the public about what happened and what can be done to prevent such an incident from happening again is a priority for the members of our committee. We find any further delay in getting necessary answers unacceptable.”

>> Related: United Airlines changes policy after man dragged from plane

Married Man Avoiding Trip With Girlfriend Sends Hijack Hoax Email

Married Man Avoiding Trip With Girlfriend Sends Hijack Hoax Email

Must-see: SeaWorld's last baby killer whale born in Texas

SeaWorld has welcomed its last baby killer whale.

The company announced in a news release that 25-year-old orca Takara gave birth to a calf at 2:33 p.m. CT Wednesday at SeaWorld San Antonio in Texas. Its gender "will be confirmed at a later date," the park said.

“This is an exciting and emotional day for us at SeaWorld, and we are all so proud to share this new killer whale calf with the world after a year and a half of planning and observing and providing all the special care,” Chris Bellows, vice president of zoological operations, said in a statement. “Takara is a great mom and immediately began bonding with and caring for her new baby. Every day, she inspires SeaWorld’s guests to learn more about and do more to protect animals in the wild. She is a true ambassador.”

>> Read more trending news

Visitors soon will be able to see the calf with its mother "during select times," the park said.

Last year, SeaWorld said it would stop breeding killer whales and halt its orca shows by 2019 following protests by animal-rights groups, The Associated Press reported.

Read more here and here.

Travel guru Rick Steves gives $4M apartment complex to YWCA

Travel guide and Edmonds, Washington, native Rick Steves has given an apartment complex to the YWCA.

The 24-unit Lynnwood apartment complex is worth $4 million.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news

He bought the complex in 2005 and since then has worked with the YWCA to place low-income single mothers in the building.

Steves said in his blog that one of his pet social causes has long been affordable housing.

“Twenty years ago, I devised a scheme where I could put my retirement savings not into a bank to get interest but into cheap apartments to house struggling neighbors,” he wrote. “Rather than collecting rent, my 'income' would be the joy of housing otherwise desperate people.”

Steves said his project evolved until he eventually owned the complex. His partners, the YWCA and the Rotary Club of Edmonds, then renovated the units with help from local government as well as the Gates Foundation.

Single mothers and their children then moved into Steves' complex. The building, Trinity Place, was at nearly full capacity from 2005 to 2016.

He gave the building this year to the YWCA. His next move was to inspire others who are fortunate to use his plan.

>> Read more trending news

“Working with the YWCA and the Rotary Club of Edmonds, we publicized this creative way of putting a fortunate person's retirement nest egg to work in a powerful way in hopes that others would be inspired to do the same in their communities,” Steves wrote.

Steves said his program is designed so the donor could eventually take back control of the land and retire on it by selling it or renting the apartments. He said he was committed to providing the apartments to the YWCA for 15 years, knowing he had security of the equity in the building if he ever needed it.

But his hope that he’d one day have the financial security to donate it entirely came true this year.

Steves’ Facebook post about the donation has been seen by 1.5 million people so far.

He laid out a timeline for the project and his thoughts about the “investment,” which can be read in his blog here.

United Airlines changes policy after man dragged from plane

United Airlines will no longer allow crew members to bump passengers already on board flights after facing heavy criticism for its removal of a Kentucky physician earlier this month.

>> Read more trending news

The policy change came after video surfaced on social media of officers with the Chicago Department of Aviation dragging Dr. David Dao off Flight 3411 after he declined to relinquish his seat to make room for a crew member.

Dao’s attorney said last week that the confrontation left Dao with a broken nose and a severe concussion. Two of his front teeth were knocked out and he was hospitalized for three days.

>> Related: United passenger suffered broken nose, teeth while being dragged from plane

The change was outlined in an internal email on April 14, The Associated Press reported. Crew members are required to make “must-ride bookings” at least an hour before the flight is scheduled to leave, according to the AP. The airline previously allowed crew members to make bookings until the time of departure.

A spokesperson for United confirmed the policy update to NPR, saying it “ensures situations like Flight 3411 never happen again.” 

"This is one of our initial steps in a review of our policies in order to deliver the best customer experience," the spokesperson told NPR.

>> Related: Delta will now pay passengers up to $9,950 to give up seats

United is not the only airline that has adjusted its policies in the wake of the dragging incident.

Delta Air Lines updated its financial incentive policy to offer up to $9,950 to passengers who volunteer to give up their seats on overbooked flights. American Airlines changed its conditions of carriage and said it would not “involuntarily remove a passenger who has already boarded,” The Washington Post reported.

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