American Airlines is being fined by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration after it was found to have retaliated against flight attendants who filed complaints about illnesses they claim were the result of so-called ‘toxic fume events’ on airplanes.
Flight attendants at the Dallas Fort Worth-based airline complained that the carrier had tried to discourage them from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses and had docked them attendance points after they fell sick after breathing in fume-filled cabin air.
In 2019, American Airlines officially reported 1,644 ‘Smoke, Odor or Fume’ (SOF) events onboard its aircraft. That means that, on average, five fume events occurred every single day in 2019.
SOF events are sometimes referred to as “toxic fume events” because campaigners claim that dangerous chemicals, especially from the aircraft engines, can become vaporised in the cabin air conditioning units before being inhaled by passengers and crew.
There have been a number of high-profile incidents in which AA flights have made emergency landings after a reported fume event which has resulted in flight attendants being sent to the hospital.
Campaigners claim fume events can cause long-term ill health effects.
“Federal law protects workers’ rights to voice workplace safety and health concerns without the fear of retaliation,” said OSHA Area Director Timothy Minor in Fort Worth, following the finding against American Airlines.
“When employers punish employees for doing so, they create a chilling effect that may stop workers from reporting future issues, putting their health and well-being, and that of co-workers, at risk,” Minor continued.
Minor said the OSHA investigation concluded that flight attendants had engaged in protected activities when they reported illnesses linked to fumes seeping into the aircraft cabin.
“Workers must feel empowered to inform managers and others about potential hazards that jeopardize workers’ safety and health,” Minor said as the agency announced a $6,837 fine against the carrier.
The investigation looked at reports made by four flight attendants between July 15 and August 3 2022. In two of the incidents, flight attendants were charged two attendance points, while two other flight attendants were charged one attendance point each for reporting an illness that resulted from a fume event.
Under AA’s attendance point program, flight attendants can be terminated if they rack up 10 or more points.
American Airlines was served the findings of the investigation on January 4 and the airline has 15 days to either request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings.
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.