FAQ Answer

FAQ Answer

Cabin Air Quality - What is the quality of air on board an aircraft?

Aircraft CabinAt high altitudes, the air outside the aircraft is not compatible with life and it is therefore necessary to produce an environment within the cabin which is compatible with personal comfort and safety. Although the cabin oxygen content is a little less than that at sea level, the body’s mechanisms in healthy individuals can make appropriate adjustments.

The air pressure in the cabin is increased relative to that outside the aircraft by using some of the air which has been compressed in the engines. Up to half the cabin air is recirculated and mixed before being distributed through the cabin.

This air is mixed and passed through high efficiency filters, which remove bacteria, viruses and particulate material. These filters are similar to those used in hospital operating theatres. The total volume of cabin air is exchanged every two to three minutes compared with every five to ten minutes in most air conditioned buildings. There is no evidence that the pressurised cabin makes transmission of disease more likely. Simple viral infections may be transmitted due to the proximity of individuals who may have such conditions.

There has been much publicity surrounding substances that may enter the air conditioning from the engine during the process of cabin air replacement.

Studies such as the European CabinAir project have shown that normally the levels of chemical and biological contaminants in aircraft are less than in many work environments such as office buildings.

There are however occasional bad smells or 'fume events' during flights, and these have been reported on a number of aircraft types which are in use around the world. Reports to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) show that sometimes one pilot reports a bad smell and the other detects nothing. An unpleasant smell is undesirable but does not necessarily harm health. Conversely carbon monoxide has no smell yet kills people in the home every year.

Some pilots who have experienced these events report a variety of short or long term symptoms or ill health. But it is not certain that these symptoms are work related.

The independent Committee on Toxicity (COT); a panel including toxicologists from various universities, completed an extensive review of evidence in September 2007 and concluded that the evidence available did not establish a link between cabin air and pilot ill health. However, the COT and indeed the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology recommended research to study the components of cabin air. The research was led by Cranfield University and the report, published on 10 May 2011, is available on the following link:-Cranfield University Report

For further information see:
Department for Transport, Cabin Air Quality


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Electrically powered medical equipment - Can I take my electrically powered medical equipment in my hand baggage?
  2. Travel Insurance - Do I need to obtain travel insurance for my trip?
  3. What is the risk of contagious disease (an infection that may be passed from one person to another) when flying?
  4. Nut Allergy - I have a nut allergy, am I at risk while travelling by air?
  5. Pregnancy - I am pregnant, is it safe for me to travel by air?
  6. Diabetes - I have diabetes, is there any special advice for diabetic people who wish to travel by air?
  7. Fear of Flying - I am very nervous at the thought of using air travel as a form of transport. Is there any treatment for my fear of flying and what causes it?
  8. Recent Surgery - I have recently had surgery. Are there any restrictions when travelling by air?
  9. Respiratory Disease - I have a lung condition which makes me breathless sometimes. Am I liable to have problems on an airplane?
  10. Disinsection - Is the spraying of aircraft cabins (disinsection) carried out on some flights harmful to health?
  11. Oxygen - I have been told that I require oxygen for my flight. Can I take my own supply?
  12. Anaemia - I suffer from anaemia and wonder if this would be a problem when flying.
  13. Ear Pain - I notice that I frequently get ear pain when travelling by air, what causes this and what can I do about it?
  14. Security scanners - Are airport security scanners safe?
  15. Security scanners - Are the whole-body scanners safe?
  16. Security scanners - Can medical equipment such as heart pacemakers or insulin pumps be affected by security scanners?
  17. Heart Conditions - I have a heart condition; will I be able to travel by air?
  18. Contact Lenses - I wear contact lenses. What is the advice about wearing lenses during my flight and is there any guidance for taking lens solution on board the aircraft?
  19. DVT - Am I at risk of a blood clot when flying?
  20. Dry eyes and skin - After a long flight, why do my eyes and my skin feel dry?
  21. Jet Lag - What is Jet Lag and how can it be treated?
  22. Seat Pitch - The seats appear to be closer together these days on many flights. What regulations apply?
  23. Carriage of Medication - Can I take my medication on board the aircraft?
  24. Defibrillators - Is it compulsory for airlines to carry a defibrillator on an aircraft?
  25. Sleep Apnoea - I suffer from sleep apnoea; can I take my Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Machine on board the aircraft as hand luggage for use in the aircraft cabin?
  26. Cabin Air Quality - What is the quality of air on board an aircraft?
  27. Infections - Why do I always pick up an infection after I have travelled in an aircraft?
  28. Vaccinations - I am travelling abroad, will I need vaccinations prior to travel?
  29. Malaria - Is it still a problem these days?
  30. Psychiatric Condition - I have a psychiatric condition, which requires me to take medication and I worry that air travel may worsen my condition or that I may not be able to travel.
  31. Reduced Mobility - I have reduced mobility and wish to travel by air. Where can I find more information about my rights to assistance during my journey and will I need a medical certificate?
  32. Plaster Cast - If I have a broken limb with a plaster cast on, can I still fly?
  33. Vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) - I use a Vagus nerve stimulator as part of my treatment for seizures. Can I take my device on board the aircraft?