Canary in the Cabin:
Did you know that there are telltale signs that your plane may be having a Fume Event in it’s very near future? There are indicators but you have to be paying attention to your passengers and you must have situational awareness. If you continue to fly on a plane where there are what I call chronic “Sick Rows” then do not ignore this problem. You notice that there seems to be an odd coincidence going on in a single row which happens flight after flight. A group of passengers in one row on aircraft left midway in the back of the cabin typically around row 18 to 23 somewhere in that area keeps getting sick flight after flight when traveling on an Airbus A320 or A319. These signs took place on several A320s and A319s that I was working during 2015 through 2017 prior to heavy engine wet seal rupture Fume Events. The worst one happend to me for 6 months prior on an Airbus A330 where my sick Canary row and seat was 32A directly under engine aircraft left. The passenger would be fine on boarding. I would ask them if they were feeling okay that day? Did they have anything unusual to eat? Did they take any medication or have any health concerns? If they were a nervous flyer etc ? Every time the passenger was just fine. Sometimes they were male, female, older, younger, a college student, a business man or an athlete. It would happen to all types of passengers. The only common denominator I could ever determine was that they all were assigned the same seat number 32A.
However, every single time just 5 minutes after take off my passenger would suddenly slump forward. They would pass out and have to be put on oxygen and I would be assisting them to get into the lavatory where they would each have violent regurgitations. This would not be taking place anywhere else onboard the aircraft. These are often written off as just quote “Air Sickness” or quote “Jet Lag” by airline management and maintenance. When you interview the passengers: none had been drinking, none had health conditions, none were medicated, none were nervous flyers and none have eaten anything unusual. Yet, flight after flight this section or seat kept having air sickness. Some passengers would even have incapacitation and fall completely unconscious or experience severe uncontrolled migraines. This was when I first began placing the puzzle pieces together in this mystery. I had soon begun to realize that the toxins had somehow begun to pool in that one area into the sidewall of the air vents by their seats and in their overhead PSU air vents. These were initial small leaks which would trickle and pool or concentrate into that one area long before it would affect the entire cabin in a full wet seal breach Fume Event.
When a seal in the engine begins to fracture, it often trickles the toxins into one row of the cabin where it accumulates. This will create what I call “sick rows” or “sick pockets” on the aircraft. It can cause just one sick seat, one sick row or one sick section. These are the telltale signs that take place on an aircraft about 6 months before it incurs a full-blown Fume Event. I call the passengers in these areas, the “Canaries in the Cabin” as they are the predictors of what is about to come for this aircraft down the line. These have taken place both times during my two worst Fume Event‘s history. I remember documenting these sick rows on an aircraft for 6 months prior. The airline managment and maintenance completely ignored those reports saying they could not find anything wrong. They would write me off as crazy or just imagining it. However, just 6 months later both of the aircraft in question had the heaviest Fume Events that I have encountered to date with full wet seal ruptures during flight. The engine wet seal has a lifespan of about 5,000 flight hours before it needs to be replaced. After deregulation, the airline industry changed the law to allow these same engines wet seals to be replaced at 30,000 flight hours then to 50,000 flight hours. Now it has progressed to our situation today where they is no preventative maintenance replacement window any longer.
ULCC and Low Cost carriers that utilize the low cost maintenance plan literally run these engine wet seals into the ground and wait for them to crack, rupture and burst before scheduling replacements. Once the seal has ruptured they will defer an air pack, perform a “Burn Out” procedure and keep flying the broken aircraft for as much as another full week. This allows multiple Fume Events to occur before pulling an aircraft from the line to put the aircraft into engine overhaul, C-Check, and Wet Seal Replacement. This is Criminal Negligence where airlines are purposely, knowingly and intentionally placing crews and passengers in harms way. This is all done to protect the bottom line since the aircraft needs to keep flying until it can be rotated into an often offshore outsoruced maintenance facility. This is where the aircraft will be repaired and taken off line for High Velocity Maintenance. The airlines knows this but they can not fix the problem with this current ULCC business model as it operates today. Some airlines never have more than 2 aircraft out of service at any given time. All their planes are attached to flying and they never buy enough planes for spares so that others can get these seals serviced before they begin to break. This is our single biggest challenge in aviation today. The challenge is to find a way to make the aircraft compliant when ULCC low cost maintenance programs never allows the time for aircraft to be offline to have the preventative maintenance they need to ensure our protection. In the meantime, it is up to each of us to remain vigilant and not ignore the “Canaries in the Cabin.” As the lives, they may be giving us the warning to protect and save may very well be our own. As we are the new Coal Miners of the Sky.
Knowledge is Power !