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Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 11:03 GMT
Gasping for airline air
BA Boeing 747, Heathrow
Recycling the air in a plane costs a lot of fuel
When BBC News Online's Emma Lynch took a flight from Miami to London, she was shocked to see that 11 passengers on the plane needed extra oxygen - and remembered allegations that some airlines are trying to save money by cutting down on the costly recycling of fresh air in planes.

When I and my fellow passengers embarked on 26 December 2000, it was with both cheer and disappointment.

The journey home would be quicker thanks to a strong tail wind, but alas the plane was nearly full and was one of British Airways' older 747s.

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A stewardess admitted that most of the crew hate working on these older planes and the few left that do fly from Heathrow would be phased out in time.

But I had my mind on more mundane matters: I was looking forward to the meal being served swiftly so that I could settle down to sleep.

Dizzy flight

I've never been a 'bad' traveller but was woken from my rest by acute feelings of nausea and a raised temperature.

Within a minute these feelings intensified, but I was not sure what caused them.

I left my seat thinking that movement could be the answer but unfortunately my condition worsened - I felt dizzy, weak and I had blurred vision. At this point I asked a fellow passenger to get help.

A steward and stewardess arrived very quickly. I still didn't know what was causing the feelings, but I described them, and asked if I could lie down somewhere - they said to lie on the floor by the exit door.


They both agreed my body was cold and clammy and explained that "the plane was very dry today", and said that I would need oxygen from a cylinder immediately.

This helped and although my symptoms did not go completely, there was an improvement.

I lay there for more than an hour and drank plenty of water.

It was cold by the door, so I returned to my seat where, for the rest of the flight, I concentrated on deep breathing and trying to ignore the nausea and headache.

Not being able to eat the breakfast, I was asked by a stewardess if I felt better.

She said that together with some turbulence it had been a pretty bad flight.

Ten other passengers had to be given oxygen and she personally had felt similarly unwell during her break.

I suggested that there might have been a problem with the food - which was categorically denied.

As we touched down I could feel cool air.

And on leaving the plane all symptoms had disappeared.

The costs of fresh air

The experience made me remember the allegation that airlines are trying to save money by cutting down on fresh air. Recycling air in a plane requires a lot of energy, and can make an impact on the bottom line as the price of fuel rises.

The allegation that has been made before - but one that the airlines, including British Airways, and airline pilots organisations deny strongly.

But it has been well documented that the quality of cabin air can have a direct effect on passengers.

These allegations have been well aired, although a House of Lords committee recently investigated the issue and dismissed it as a cause for concern, unless there was more evidence.

That same committee highlighted the reports of deep-vein thrombosis on long-haul flights and said these did deserve further investigation.

According to Simon Evans, a spokesman for the Air Transport Users Council, British Airways would be concerned about problems like the ones I experienced on my flight.

"They would want to know, needing extra oxygen on a flight is very rare," he said.

And British Airways say they are indeed interested and currently looking into the incident - although they have not come back with an explanation yet.

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See also:

31 Oct 00 | World
Boeing's workhorse
10 Nov 00 | Health
More evidence of flying risk
22 Nov 00 | Scotland
'Unhealthy' flights criticised
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