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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 11:31 GMT
Airlines 'neglect' passenger health
airline seats
The amount of leg-room on flights is causing concern
Air passengers should get more information about the health risks of flying, says a critical Parliamentary report.

As well as including health warnings with long-haul tickets, airlines should also consider giving passengers more legroom and less alcohol, says the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

There is a small risk of a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) associated with long-distance air travel.

This occurs when unwanted clots form in deep blood vessels, often those in the legs, and can be dangerous if the clots break away and lodge in other areas such as the lungs.


Our concern is not that health is secondary to safety but that it has been woefully neglected

Committee report
It is thought that long periods spent sitting down in one position, particularly a cramped one, are more likely to create the poor circulation conditions needed for the formation of clots.

The report said: "Safety is paramount in the airline industry and nobody would wish it otherwise.

"Our concern is not that health is secondary to safety but that it has been woefully neglected."

Eoin Redahan of the Stroke Association said: "The key to preventing clots forming in someone's leg during a flight is for passengers to move frequently and drink plenty of water. Unfortunately, if this makes it more difficult for airlines to sell alcohol and duty free, that is the price they incur to ensure that their passengers remain healthy."

The committee calls for urgent research into the causes of DVT, as the link with flying is still controversial.

DVT has been dubbed "economy class syndrome", because the reduced legroom in the cheaper seats may place travellers at increased risk.

But the committee wants the term dropped because it may lull first class passengers into a false sense of security.

The committee said that seating arrangements on flights paid no consideration to passenger comfort.

It called on the Civil Aviation Authority to lay down an "unambiguous" set of measurements for seat dimensions, so passengers would know what to expect.

Baroness Wilcox, who chaired the inquiry, said: "Passengers intending to fly are not told enough to enable them to make informed choices about their air travel.

"While the health risks seem slight for the vast majority - indeed, millions fly safely every day - we recommend urgent research and development of user-friendly information for passengers to reduce any further risks."

The report called for small display cards at the ticket sale point which asked passengers whether they were fit to fly.

In addition, it said, airlines should give health briefings as part of the pre-flight safety drill.

However, it found that there was no evidence that airlines were compromising the quality of air in the cabin in order to save money. A report from London-based consultant surgeon John Scurr - due to be published in The Lancet next month - is likely to suggest that as many as one in 10 passengers suffers from DVT in some form.

The precautions passengers can take to avoid DVT include drinking plenty of water and exercising during the flight.

Some airlines already suggest passengers exercise during long flights.

The Civil Aviation Authority already specifies minimum seat dimensions for aircraft manufacturers, but a spokesman said its remit was plane safety rather than passenger health.

A spokesman said: "We already include some information on plane safety with the booking information, and would have no objection to putting some information pointing passengers in the direction of health information.

"We might have an issue with health information being part of the pre-flight briefing, if it detracts from the safety aspect of the briefing."

Collapsed and died

The inquiry comes the month after bride-to-be Emma Christoffersen, 28, collapsed and died from DVT minutes after stepping off a 20-hour flight from Australia.

Her parents, Ruth and John Christoffersen, have urged long-haul airline operators to give pre-flight warnings of the dangers of DVT to passengers.

The committee will also call for better standards to reduce the risk to passengers and crew of infection from poor ventilation and air quality.

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See also:

23 Oct 00 | UK
The seats of discontent
18 Nov 00 | Health
Study backs blood clot fears
10 Nov 00 | Health
More evidence of flying risk
23 Oct 00 | C-D
Deep vein thrombosis
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