You may have read reports of airplane cabin air or been on a flight and wondered what exactly are you breathing in? In addition to thinking about the passengers on-board and whether or not they are sick, etc. many people wonder, “Is airplane cabin air toxic?” Some people experience nausea, headaches, memory loss, neurological illness, paralysis… from flying. Indeed. When you’re on a plane, at times you may be breathing in toxic fumes from the cabin air. According to the Daily Mail, half of the air in your plane “comes from the blisteringly hot heart of its engines… [and] once it has been cooled down, that air, together with any toxins it might have picked up along the way, passes straight into the aircraft cabin totally unfiltered.” And this has been happening since 1962, when airlines realized it was cheaper to recycle engine air than to make air from the outside breathable. And the unsafe air doesn’t just affect passengers. A Telegraph article told the story of a Swedish pilot and co-pilot who were made so ill by cabin air, they were nearly paralyzed while flying. Fortunately, they donned their oxygen masks just in time and safely landed the plane. The recycled (but not clean) cabin air “can cause drowsiness, headaches, flu-like symptoms and nausea — the kind of symptoms that Dr Nicola Hembry, a specialist in environmental medicine, says passengers may wrongly assume have been picked up from another passenger.” The worst part about this? Governments and airlines have known about problems with cabin air quality for a long time and the technology for clean air is available, but it’s expensive. So airlines haven’t done anything about it yet. News outlets have been reporting on the problem for years. In December of 2000, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on safety issues with cabin air and in June of 2007, the New Scientist wrote about “aerotoxic syndrome” in pilots. But there’s hope yet – the Business Traveller reported last week that the UK government has plans to take action around cabin air quality and it seems likely that other countries will follow. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like it will happen any time soon. photo credit: kla4067 My first thought after reading all of this? “So I’m not crazy, after all.” I experienced symptoms on a plane before. Picture it: November 2005, Moscow’s Sheremtyevo airport. Elizabeth and I had spent the last 12 hours camped out on the airport floor, making friends with a middle-aged Russian couple while their 7-year-old daughter read a book nearby. We worked our way through the language barrier and bonded over our delayed trip to Egypt in a babble-like blend of Russian, English, French, and German. Our plane had been delayed by technical problems, and when we finally boarded via a spiral staircase that took us through the luggage compartment, I could see why. The ancient Aeroflot Soviet passenger plane was humongous and looked like it hadn’t been worked on since the Cold War. We sat on the runway for close to an hour and soon after the plane took off, I began to feel sick to my stomach. This was really the first time I thought about airplane cabin air. I was completely fine before boarding the plane; I ate and drank plenty of water. There was nothing wrong with me until I sat on that plane awhile. The air in the plane smelled awful and toxic and each breath brought on another wave of nausea. I fell into an uncomfortable half-sleep, kept awake by the sickness. After the eight hour flight, we arrived safely but I will always question airplane cabin air after that experience.