Suit filed over fumes from Alaska Airlines plane


SEATTLE — An Alaska Airlines passenger is suing the airline over injuries she says she suffered when deicer fumes entered an aircraft at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Christmas Eve.

Paramedics treated 25 people who were on an Alaska Airlines plane. Deicer fumes made their way onto the plane and irritated the eyes of passengers and the crew.

An attorney for passenger Arianna Morgan says she still feels the effects of that exposure and suffers numbness in her hands and fatigue.

The lawyer says the airline had a duty to ensure ventilation systems were closed during deicing.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court in Seattle.

Airline spokeswoman Caroline Boren says the company is concerned about passenger welfare and is reviewing the complaint.

All 143 passengers boarded another plane and continued to Burbank, Calif.

Suit filed over fumes from Alaska Airlines plane

14 thoughts on “Suit filed over fumes from Alaska Airlines plane

  1. Lisa says:

    This is a lawsuit for money simple as that. As a former flight attendant (not for Alaska) I have inhaled my fair share of all types of fumes including de-icing solution. Yes it will irritate the eyes and chest just like inhaling any other fume. It is your bodies natural way of protecting itself. As far as the other symptoms this lady is having I am sure she had them before and is trying to cash in on the incident. People in this world are so money hungry they will do anything to get it.


    1. admin says:

      Hey Lisa! Got any allergies? Your comment reminds me of the guy who says, “I’ve been eating tablespoons of pesticide all my life, and I’m not dead yet.” Or the smoker who says the same thing, then drops dead at age 60 (like my ex-roommate did last year). You’re fortunate if your immune system can take the fumes, but you have no idea how they’ll affect you in the long term. You certainly don’t know how others may be affected.

      I agree that people are way too suit-happy these days, and there are sleazy types who’ll try to take advantage of a situation. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this woman is one of them.


  2. admin says:

    Just for the record, this is nothing new. On March 26, 1999 the Seattle P-I carried the story below. That was over a decade ago. And on July 30, 2009 the Wall Street Journal reminded us nothing has changed.

    Up in the Air: New Worries About ‘Fume Events’ on Planes

    By Sarah Nassauer

    Any frequent flier knows that air on a plane can get pretty foul. But can it be toxic?

    Flight crews and travelers are increasingly concerned with that question, amid growing attention to a particular aspect of the air pumped into planes. Air travelers breathe a combination of recycled cabin air and outside fresh air that has been compressed by the aircraft’s engines—known as “bleed air.” But when the system malfunctions, chemical contaminants can occasionally end up circulating through the airplane, creating a so-called fume event.


    Airline attendants very sick, and why is a mystery

    Friday, March 26, 1999
    By Scott Sunde

    For 10 years, Alaska Airlines flight attendants have complained that the air they breathe at work is making them sick.

    And for 10 years, Alaska Airlines managers have said they don’t know what’s causing the illnesses among dozens of its 1,900 flight attendants.

    The flight attendants blame a range of maladies — headaches, goiters, tremors and lost mental abilities — on toxic fumes they believe are created by hydraulic fluid in airliner ventilation systems. And they say most of their problems occur on MD-80 jetliners, which are the backbone of Alaska’s West Coast service.

    “It’s a scary thing — you don’t know when you get on a plane whether it might happen,” said Joni Benson, an Alaska flight attendant and Association of Flight Attendants union official.

    Alaska’s response is unequivocal.

    “It’s not coming from our airplanes,” said John Fowler, an executive vice president who oversees maintenance and operations for the Seattle-based airline.

    Alaska executives stress that passengers’ health is not in jeopardy and that reports of illness have centered on flight attendants.

    Still, five flight attendants are too ill to work and 15 are on reduced schedules, Benson said.

    Mary Jacobs has suffered tremors since 1997, when, she says, she worked on an MD-80 that was so smoky she could see only a few rows of seats away when she boarded the plane.

    Today, she supports herself with welfare, food stamps and the help of others. Two of her three teen-age sons now live with her ex-husband for economic reasons. Besides, she says, they get embarrassed when she shakes uncontrollably in public.

    Shaving her legs can leave them bloody. Pulling a dish from the oven with her shaking hands can pepper her fingers with small burns.

    “I feel like it’s my body, but the person I was — I’m not that person,” said Jacobs, 37. “It’s not something I can forget. It’s an everyday part of life.”

    From July 1989 to January 1999, flight attendants documented 760 instances of air-quality problems involving 900 flight attendants. Some reports described odors like burning plastic, dirty socks or nail-polish remover. Smoke or mist sometimes accompanied the odors.

    At other times, flight attendants say, they felt sick but saw or smelled nothing.

    Jacobs and other flight attendants have filed hundreds of worker compensation claims in Washington, Oregon and California. They’ve asked state lawmakers and Congress for help. Some have filed a lawsuit.

    But after a decade of concern, the cause of their illness remains elusive: Federal investigators and the airline’s own consultants have looked, and found nothing.

    “I don’t know why they are ill,” said Ed White, Alaska’s vice president of customer service. “I am absolutely convinced that there is not something in the aircraft environment that caused their illnesses.”

    Still, Alaska has invested heavily in modifications, new maintenance procedures and studies aimed at pinpointing and solving any problems.

    While Alaska also flies Boeing 737s, about 75 percent of the air quality complaints involve MD-80s. Those complaints began in 1989, five years after the airline bought its first MD-80. It expanded the fleet in 1986 through acquisition of Jet America of Long Beach, Calif.

    Blaming the plane, though, is problematic. Other major airlines, including American and Delta, fly MD-80s, but only Alaska has such a high level of air quality complaints.

    More study is sought

    With investigators so far unable to find a connection between the illnesses and the planes, the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries wants further study of Alaska’s MD-80s. Dr. Lee Glass, the department’s associate medical director, is trying to get the company and union to agree to a health-hazard investigation, then abide by its results.

    “It’s significant to me when I hear these recurrent complaints,” Glass said.

    Yet while L&I has received hundreds of worker compensation claims from flight attendants, none has won a claim initially rejected by the airline.

    “What has been lacking . . . is evidence that there has been an exposure of a toxic nature or that there is a definable physical condition or that there is a link between a known exposure and a physical condition,” Glass said.

    Alaska and its flight attendant union have yet to agree on the study. Both sides have doubts that they will.

    A study may be long overdue, said Dr. Scott Barnhart, director of the University of Washington’s occupational and environmental medicine program.

    “If one person from a workplace comes in with, say, asthma, you might say people get asthma for lots of reasons. But when five people come in with asthma, then that begins to raise a question about whether there is something going on with exposure in the workplace,” Barnhart said.

    Labor and Industries also is under pressure from the Washington Legislature. After hearing testimony from Alaska flight attendants, the Senate earlier this year passed a bill that requires study of claims of workers who believe they were sickened by chemical exposure.

    Finding a cause may be harder than finding a needle in a field of haystacks. Alaska has 14,000 departures a month, while the union records about seven air quality problems a month.

    The rarity of incidents may explain why the problem appears limited to flight attendants. If exposed to something that might be making flight attendants ill, a passenger might not connect it to the trip or might dismiss any symptoms to the flu or some other common ailment.

    State officials believe that only one Alaska pilot has filed a worker compensation claim over the fumes. The lack of pilot complaints, Alaska managers believe, calls into question whether anything on the company planes are making people sick. But flight attendants counter that pilots are unlikely to file claims because they could face grounding if they say they were exposed to toxins.

    Complaints of headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, mental confusion and other symptoms sparked a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health study in 1990.

    But the agency, the country’s chief investigator of work place hazards, could find nothing amiss on MD-80s.

    “The cause of most of these incidents remains undetermined,” the agency concluded. “Neither the incident reports nor the environmental investigations provide a satisfactory explanation for the seemingly higher rate of incidents in Alaska Airlines’ MD-80 airplanes.”

    The agency called for more study, and flight attendants continue to fill out “irregularity reports” about cabin air quality.

    Alaska management studied and dismissed several theories involving radiation, cleaning fluids, ozone, volcanic dust and other possibilities, said White, the vice president of customer services.

    “If anyone could make a magic wand or a crystal ball that could identify what is causing the illness,” said Fowler, the Alaska vice president, “we would ask them what it is and get it fixed.”

    Adding to the airline’s frustration is knowledge that about 1,200 MD-80s are in service worldwide, with only Alaska experiencing so many air quality complaints.

    The flight attendants’ union attributes that to Alaska’s method of dealing with those complaints. Other airlines ground and clean MD-80s with fume problems before they return to service, they say.

    At Alaska, “They send one flight crew out on an ambulance and a new crew in the plane,” said Benson, of the flight attendant’s union.

    Alaska managers reject that notion. Fowler said Alaska does more than other airlines. If fumes are visible, it cleans ventilation systems, replaces seat covers, washes walls, steam-cleans or removes carpeting and puts in new filters, he said.

    Aggravating the frustration is the occupational safety no-man’s land where flight attendants work. Pilots and flight attendants working on airplanes are not covered by the usual worker safety laws. The Federal Aviation Administration reserves the right to police on-the-job safety for flight crews.

    The FAA sets health standards for pilots, but not flight attendants. It has not taken an active role in questions about air quality on Alaska jets. Instead, the agency monitors Alaska’s work and is satisfied with the airline’s actions, said Mitch Barker, an FAA spokesman.

    Because Alaska is self-insured, worker compensation claims are handled internally unless they are rejected. In that event, they go to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries.

    Alaska says it has approved some claims for short-term medical problems in cases where there was smoke in the cabin, but it has not covered long-term illnesses.

    Frustrated flight attendants filed suit in June 1998, with 26 now suing Alaska, McDonnell-Douglas and Allied Signal, which makes some MD-80 equipment. Boeing acquired McDonnell-Douglas in 1997.

    The case, which could go to trial next year, stems from what the flight attendant’s union considers a solution to the mystery. In 1997, an Alaska mechanic suggested that flight attendants compare reports of hydraulic-fluid leaks with air quality complaints, Benson said.

    Hydraulic fluid, which is a synthetic compound, can be harmful if absorbed through skin or swallowed. If partly burned, it produces volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide.

    Hydraulic fluid spills have been associated with some high-profile emergencies. In March 1996, a hydraulic leak on an Alaska MD-80 heading toward Las Vegas caused a hot plastic smell. Three flight attendants, two pilots and three passengers were taken to the hospital.

    In December 1997, hydraulic fluid got into an Alaska MD-80’s auxiliary power unit — a small jet engine that powers air conditioning and other systems when the plane is on the ground. Fumes spread through the cabin as the plane was taxiing to the gate in San Francisco, forcing evacuation on the taxiway.

    And in February 1998, spilled hydraulic fluid got into the ventilation system of an Alaska MD-80 on the ground at Sea-Tac Airport. Three flight attendants and four passengers complained of dizziness, shortness of breath and headaches.

    The union’s theory is this: Hydraulic fluid leaks into the auxiliary power unit. Heat from the unit, and later the engines, degrades the fluid, producing a neurotoxin — a poison that affects the nervous system — which circulates through the ventilation system.

    Some hydraulic lines associated with engine thrust reversers pass near the auxiliary power unit, and drains near the power unit get rid of any nearby leaks.

    The MD-80’s maker says there’s no design flaw that would cause the fumes.

    “Every investigation has exonerated the airplane. It’s something of a mystery,” said John Thom, a spokesman for Boeing in Long Beach, Calif.

    Alaska acknowledges that hydraulic leaks occur and can cause temporary illnesses, but the airline says it has taken extensive and expensive measures to reduce the chances of leaks, including modifications to improve the drains, dams to keep fluid from reaching the power unit, stronger clamps and thicker cable to prevent leaks near the unit.

    The airline also has put more sensitive air filters on MD-80s and some 737s, Fowler said, adding that Alaska pioneered some of the changes.

    Alaska also hired an outside laboratory to test the union’s theory. Hydraulic fluid was heated to try to produce a specific neurotoxin — without success. In 1998 an MD-80 that had been the source of several complaints was tested on the ground in Spokane. The auxiliary power unit was run for six hours, but no neurotoxins were detected.

    “In sum, all of the scientific evidence has shown that there is nothing in the cabin environment of our aircraft that poses a risk to either our employees or our customers,” Alaska executives wrote last week to pilots and flight attendants.

    But union officials criticize those tests, saying the hydraulic fluid wasn’t heated correctly in the lab and that the plane in Spokane was cleaned first.

    Fowler said the plane got no special attention.

    Similar problems reported

    Alaska and its flight attendants aren’t alone in their concern about the illness and the search for its cause.

    The Teamsters local that represents flight attendants at Canada’s Air BC is collecting air quality data for analysis, said Don Davies, a union lawyer.

    Canadian flight attendants also complain of tremors, a metallic taste and cognitive problems. But the plane under scrutiny in Canada and in Australia is the BAE 146, a British Aerospace jet.

    In Australia, Ansett airlines flight attendants have filed compensation claims, complaining of diseases from fumes in the cabin. One Ansett pilot reported feeling “drunk as a skunk” from fumes while landing at Brisbane.

    In what may be the world’s first study of its type, Ansett, the Australian government and an American engineering association will begin looking at potential air contaminants in May.

    The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, meanwhile, has declined to study the hydraulic fluid issue, telling Alaska’s flight attendant’s union in 1998 that its neurotoxin theory seems unlikely.

    Today, the dispute has become a series of claims and counterclaims in letters between the union and the company. The union accused Alaska of a cover-up in a February letter to flight attendants; Alaska responded last week to what it called false accusations by the union.

    That level of distrust may stand in the way of the study the state would like to see.

    So the mystery remains unsolved, even as reports of air quality incidents and illnesses continue.

    © 1999 Seattle Post-Intelligencer. All rights reserved.


  3. Hi,

    Just found your blog on Technorati & Digg upcomming news feeds and read a few of your other posts.
    ISeems good contents,Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.



  4. jim says:

    I was at the airport flying United when Alaska Air had the problem with the de-icing fluid last year. I was impressed with the response from the company. They had the a very quick response from the fire department and called out multible ambulances. From my understanding when talking to one of their managers the only people that went to the hospital was a few of the crew members. The airline made repeated calls on the load speakers for people to he seen by medical personal. They were encouraging people to get help and go to the hospital if needed. The VP of customer services or something like that was out there and telling people if they had any questions or needed help he would be there till everyone was taken care of. It looks like to me this lady is just taking advantage of an opportunity or a lawyer has convinced her to take an andvantage of a opportunity. I because of my routes I fly am forced to fly United but would fly Alaska more if I could.


  5. cjk says:

    Alaska Airlines couldn’t be any worse. They want $400 more to change a flight. Plus they are going gouge me for a luggage fee. I hate this airline and will not use it again. Please join me in Boycotting Alaska Airlines.


  6. Your nice blog is probably worth a read if anyone comes across it. Im lucky i did because now Ive got an entire new view of it. I didnt realise which the issue was so important for that reason universal. You definitely placed it in perspective for myself, thanks for the fantatic information and facts.


  7. gymfree says:

    Alaska airlines s probably the worst and most unprofessional airliner ..just a reminder in 2000 killing all passengers and crew out of los angeles for overseeing safety checks which had been required by FAA months earlier, not to mention the level of discrimination as how many african american or asian american crews have you seen on any of their airlplanes or agents at any of their gates?…just factual and shameful


  8. Steve Scarpa says:

    ADMIN NOTE: The post below was sent to me months ago. I responded to the writer that it’s written in third person, as if it were a press release. Which it is not. I asked him to re-write it in first person and re-submit it. I did not receive a response or a re-write. I have elected to post it unedited, with this disclaimer: I have no way of verifying or authenticating its claims. -Admin.

    April 1, 2011

    Re: Alaska Airlines AS224 San Francisco to Cabo San Jose Flight Incident

    A San Francisco Alaska Airlines Male Flight Attendant threw 5 people off a First Class Flight today after 4 hour delay.

    Today at 3:00pm after a 4 hr delay mostly spent on a hot uncomfortable aircraft a San Francisco Alaska Airlines flight attendant abruptly threw 5 out of the 12 First Class passengers bound to Cabo San Jose off the aircraft after calling one of the First Class Passengers Sweetie and another First Class passenger videotaped part of the Flight attendants erratic behavior

    Mrs Shannon Berry was seated in the First Row and after the 4 hr uncomfortable and hot delay had simply asked Flight attendant Bryan the Alaska First Class Flight attendant why they were taking the luggage off the aircraft located below her window. Bryan the First Class Flight attendant abruptly barked back at Mrs. Shannon Berry inappropriately calling her Sweetie!

    Mrs. Berrys husband John Berry politely corrected Bryan the First Class Flight attendant on his inappropriate language. Upon seeing Flight Attendant Bryans irrational behavior Mrs. Jason Luke in the 2nd row began to video tape the Flight attendants erratic behavior. Bryan the flight attendant then angrily told Mrs. Luke to turn off her video or he would confiscate it!

    After a 4 hr delay Flight Attendant Bryan then abruptly asked that 5 of the 12 first Class passengers be kicked off the flight at 3pm for no apparent reason leaving the other 7 First Class passengers completely dumbstruck. Some of the other First Class passengers even tried to reason with the flight attendant and were simply ignored.

    Passengers had boarded San Francisco Alaska Flt #AS224 at 10.40am that was scheduled to leave San Francisco at 11.10am. With all passengers on Board it became apparent by 11.30 am that there was a mechanical problem. Alaska First Class flight attendant Bryan immediately proceeded to offer First Class passengers alcoholic drinks. All Questions about the flight delay went completely unanswered and ignored by the flight attendant

    At 1pm all passengers were told to reboard the repaired aircraft for a departing time at 1.15PM. At 1.30 pm it was again apparent there was still a mechanical problem and the afternoon heat was getting worse. At 2.30 pm after spending another 1½ hrs on the Aircraft in the heat the Captain of Alaska Flt #AS224 announced that they could not locate a new more problematic issue with the aircraft and that he was waiting word for a different aircraft to take all the passengers to Cab.

    It was at that time Shannon Berry saw luggage being removed from the aircraft and asked Alaska Flight attendant Bryan questions and the flight attendant became inappropriate and angry. Steven Scarpa another first Class Passenger seated in the last row 3A behind and across from Mrs. Shannon Berry and Mrs. Jason Luke simply remarked to flight Attendant Bryan that the departing flight time was now listed at 3pm and he got kicked off the aircraft!

    Onsite customer service supervisor, Michelle Harris, boarded the aircraft and also would not listen to a word from any of the 12 first class passengers and then instructed five of the First Class passengers to disembark the aircraft.

    A female First Class passengers sitting in 3B next to Mr. Scarpa remarked Scarpa did not do anything and was shocked. She was in complete disbelief of how unprofessional and unjust Alaska Flight Attendant Bryan had been and this whole non- incident was unwarranted.

    After being kicked off of Alaska Flt #AS224 all Five First Class passengers learned there were no available flights to Cabo on any airline for the next 2 days.

    All First Class passengers that did not even know each other remarked this complaint was going to the President of Alaska Airlines as well as the Press and lawsuits would be filed. Scarpa remarked that Alaska Flight attendant needs to be immediately terminated for unprofessionally being rude to passengers.

    First Class passengers kicked off Alaska Flt #AS224 were:

    Mr. Steven Scarpa, seat 3A
    Novato, Calif 94949
    Tel 415-706-3172

    Mr.Shannon Berry, seat 1F
    Lynden, WA 98264
    Tel 380-318-1303

    Mr.John Berry, seat 1D
    Tel 360-319-6733

    Mr. Jason Luke, seat 2D
    Mrs. Jason Luke, seat 2F
    Tel 206-930-3400

    William S. Ayer, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer
    Bradley D. Tilden, President
    Benito Minicucci, CEO, Executive Vice President – Operations
    Benjamin Forrest, Vice President of flight operations
    Jeff Butler,Staff Vice President – Station Operations


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