British Airways has a problem and its not only hurting its reputation but also physically hurting its passengers. It comes in the form of bed bugs – or to go by their scientific name, Cinex lectularius. Small nocturnal creatures that bite and feed on human blood.
Over the last few month, there have been several high-profile complaints from BA passengers who have described being bitten by bed bugs onboard the carrier’s planes. In October 2017, Heather Szilagyi and her seven-year-old daughter complained of being bitten by the bugs on a flight from Vancouver to London. The family were forced to endure a 9-hour flight as the bugs bit them on their legs and backs.
Then, a British businessman complained of being bitten around “120-150 times” by bed bugs on a 14-hour flight from London to Cape Town. Mike Gregory said he noticed red blood spots on his blanket and complained of an “itchy waist, torso and hands” – Mr Gregory said the pain and subsequent medical treatment ruined his holiday in South Africa.
British Airways has said incidents of bed bugs on its flights are “extremely rare” but less than a month later, a plane due to fly to Ghana had to be grounded when cabin crew spotted bed bugs crawling on seats. Ghana’s aviation minister, Cecelia Dapaah, was so appaled by the reports that she has threatened BA with sanctions unless it steps up its cabin cleaning efforts.
For its part, British Airways has been sticking to the same line, saying in a copy and paste statement:
“The presence of bed bugs is an issue faced occasionally by hotels and airlines all over the world. British Airways operates more than 280,000 flights on 280 routes every year, and reports of bed bugs on board are extremely rare.
“Nevertheless, we are vigilant and continually monitor our aircraft.
“The comfort of our customers is always a top priority and a specialist team took immediate steps to resolve this issue.”
Which is certainly true – to an extent at least. Hotels do indeed get more than their fair share of bed bug infestations and in 2010, there was a particularly nasty spread of the critters in New York City. The situation got so bad that even upmarket, teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch was forced to close and fumigate two of its stores in the city because of a bed bug infestation.
But cabin crew at British Airways have approached us to say bed bugs aren’t nearly as rare as the airline would like everyone to believe. Speaking on condition of anonymity, serving crew tell us the presence of bed bugs is a daily occurrence and many cabin crew have fallen victim to the bugs during long-haul flights.
There’s an old adage in the aviation industry which goes a little like this: “An aeroplane not flying, is an aeroplane not making money.” Airlines do everything they can to keep planes in the air as much possible – getting the most out of their schedules as possible. Which means cleaning an aircraft during its turnaround sometimes doesn’t take the highest priority.
But at the infamously thrifty British Airways, it looks like cost-cutting in the cabin cleaning department has taken its toll.
Cabin crew tell us they have been battling with airline bosses for well over a year to get the issue properly addressed. According to our sources, British Airways refuses to fumigate a plane unless crew have seen at least 6-bed bugs visible to the naked eye. They claim many planes are never taken out of service despite multiple injury reports being submitted by both passengers and crew.
And it’s not just bed bugs that are a problem – the general cleanliness of the airline’s aircraft cabins haven’t escaped the notice of both passengers and crew. A well-heeled British art dealer, Michael Hoppen even took to writing into The Times of London newspaper complaining of how filthy the airline’s planes and seats had got of late.
Our sources confirmed Hoppen’s complaints – they said planes very often depart without being properly cleaned. Accusations include onboard toilets not being cleaned at all, seat back tray tables left caked in dirt and soiled seats being assigned to passengers without being cleaned.
The situation has now got so bad that a British Airways spokesperson told The Times that they had “recently introduced a team of our own managers to work alongside our cleaners at Heathrow to carry out increased inspections and drive improvements. “
Industry judges, Skytrax say “the significance of cleanliness and hygiene cannot be overlooked,” claiming cabin cleanliness “has become an increasingly important factor by which customers judge their experience.”
According to Skytrax, up to 82% of passengers claim a clean cabin is a very important factor in how they rate their overall experience. It’s probably not surprising then that British Airways didn’t make it into the Skytrax awarded Top 20 list of the World’s Cleanest Aircraft Cabins 2017.
If, however, you want to fly on a clean plane then the best bet might be choosing a flight with EVA Air – They took the spot, while asian airlines, ANA All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Asiana Airlines and Cathay Pacific made up the rest of the Top Five.