Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Toxic air in the air

It does not matter how fastidious one is, how thoroughly and often one washes one's hands or even how many vitamins one takes, one is still likely to get sick from long-haul air travel.
I lost several weeks of my time in the US with a particularly debilitating bronchial infection which, all timing and logic told me, was contracted en route in the air.
On return to Australia I again became sick - fortunately, with a less serious version of upper respiratory tract infection but nonetheless nasty enough to force me to take three days off work. Once again, without a doubt, I caught this infection in the air.
I wonder how many people get sick after air travel.
My local GP wondered the same thing. She suggested that someone should do a PhD study on the phenomenon.
Forums on air crew websites indicate that sickness is common among crews on long hauls. There is even a handbook coming out aircraft air quality.
Its blurb reads: The issue of aircraft air quality is attracting considerable attention of late, as access to public air travel has expanded exponentially. Aircrew and passengers are increasingly concerned about operating and service decisions that could affect their health, comfort, and safety. The editor of this volume invited a wide range of experts to provide an in-depth treatment of virtually all aspects of aircraft cabin air quality.
It's about time. But what a pity it is meant only for the industry. The industry can happily ignore it.
I am feeling very hostile about this air quality issue. It is another instance of punishment by economic rationalism - who cares if the people suffer, so long as a dime is saved. One knows that airlines are in financial strife. How much do they save by rationing air supplies?
I read on another air crew website that first class gets piped three times as much oxygen as tourist. How cynical could that be, if, indeed, it is so. One suspects it may well be, for the corporate high flyers would not tolerate frequent illnesses betwixt and between their megabuck commitments. They surely would be making a fuss.
But the little people cramped in tourist sucking in the coughs and colds and heaven knows what from where... They just take it as fate. They probably don't remember the days when aircraft air was not so dirty and dulling.
Just think of the backlash against smokers. At least when smoking was allowed on planes, they used to provide good air circulation. They banned the smokers and then skimped on the air. The subsequent meagre, filthy, fetid air is more poisonous by far than tobacco smoke.
But where is the backlash? Where are the health authorities? Why don't air crews go on strike? Why don't businesses sue airlines for loss of productive time among travelling staff?
If the airlines can be cornered into recognising deep vein thrombosis as a liability in cramped conditions, then it needs to be forced to accept liability for the veritable epidemics it generates among its hapless passengers.

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