An American Airlines flight to London had to be diverted and 10 of the 12 flight attendants on board were taken to the hospital after an inflight incident that the airline described as a “possible odour” event. American Airlines flight AA728 from Philadelphia (PHL) to London Heathrow (LHR) diverted to Boston approximately an hour after departing Philadelphia when the pilots donned oxygen masks and declared a medical emergency.
Sources claim flight attendants reported a smell of “dirty old socks” and started to fall ill. A musty odour, which is often associated with dirty socks, can indicate the presence of turbine engine oil. The oil may have entered the air conditioning system as ‘fresh’ air is supplied to the cabin through a process known as bleed air – whereby cabin air is supplied via the aircraft’s engines.
Safety advocates have long warned that in some rare cases engine and hydraulic oil can become mixed with this bleed air and contaminate the air being sucked into the air conditioning system. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the only aircraft type not to supply air to the cabin via bleed air.
Sunday’s AA728 was operated by an Airbus A330 jet which previously flew for US Airways before the merger with American. The aircraft is nearly 20-years old but this is the first time that an incident of this nature has occurred on this particular airplane.
In a statement, American Airlines confirmed the flight “diverted to Boston Sunday evening after a possible odor was reported in the cabin.”
The statement continued:
“The aircraft, an Airbus A330-300 with 154 passengers and a crew of 12, landed safely at 11:48 p.m. ET and taxied to the gate. Ten of the 12 crew members asked to be transported to a local hospital for evaluation; all were later released. No customers experienced any issues.
“All 154 customers were provided with overnight accommodations in Boston, and continued their journey to London Tuesday.”
Although the three pilots on the flight deck decided to put on oxygen masks they were not affected by what some observers have described as a possible “toxic fume event”.
None of the 154 passengers felt any ill effects, although this is likely because the incident occurred during a busy time in the service in which flight attendants were active and moving around the cabin. As such, they would have been breathing in more of the air than passengers.
Flight attendant and cabin crew unions have warned about the dangers of “toxic fume events” for several years. When a fume event is suspected, flight attendants are now advised to seek urgent medical attention and request blood samples at the earliest opportunity.
A number of unions also advise cabin crew to don smoke hoods if a fume event is suspected, although some airlines discourage this practice. Many airlines refer to fume incidents as “odour” or “smell” events and claim they pose no longterm health effects, although acknowledge there may be temporary ill effects.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.