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What are the real costs of poor cabin air quality?

I think it's safe to say that the benchmark for excellent cabin air quality in commercial aircraft, is air that nobody thinks about or even notices. Settling into your seat on a flight and suddenly becoming "aware" of the air that you're breathing, due to a strange or pungent odour, does not make for a quality experience.

In this article, we look at both visible and potentially hidden costs of poor cabin air quality. While safety measures are in place to ensure that any odours are nontoxic, transient odours can still make their way into the cabin air. These odours can lead to a cascade of problems, including passenger complaints and litigious claims, flight delays and cancellations, extended AOG times, or a public loss of confidence in an airline's safety efficacy.

How can you maximise cabin air quality and reduce odour complaints? Contact us to find out!

Ideally, cabin air quality shouldn't be something your passengers notice. When they do, it can be costly. If you'd like to ensure your cabin air doesn't result in complaints, fill in your information below and a Satair expert will assist you shortly.

The operational costs of poor cabin air quality

In our desk research, we were unable to produce specific numbers regarding how cabin air odours affect operation cost. These factors are situational to each particular airline, aircraft, how often cases are reported, and the amount of time and resources were used in correcting the problem.

An excellent way to look at the operational cost is to look at the time spent and time lost. Some airlines have aircraft AOG costs exceeding $150,000 an hour. Time spent on correcting cabin air odour can often be mitigated if an operator is aware of the specific solutions available.


For example, once a transient odour is reported by the crew, it is often standard operating procedure to change the current air filters. Keeping AOG costs to a minimum could simply come down to an operator being aware that filters with Activated Carbon are better at reducing the nuisance odours.

Learn how to stay ahead of cabin air filtration problem

Passenger Rights

One of the more direct - and visible - costs when a cabin odour is reported comes from potential delays or cancellations to the flight, which disrupt an aircraft's operating schedule. The less apparent costs, specific to airlines that operate throughout the EU, come from an airline's financial responsibility to passengers for any delays or cancellations to their flights.

Learn how to stay ahead of cabin air filtration problems

Consumer Protection and Public Health legislation, enforced by the European Parliament, ensures that passengers are afforded a certain level of protection against denied boarding, flight delays and cancellation. In the case that any of these situations are met–for example, if a nuisance odour is reported and must be investigated–the airline is responsible for passenger compensation.

Cabin air quality sparking litigious claims

Within the last few years, there has been a growing public concern over whether engine fume events and transient odours are harmful to passengers and flight crew. The BBC published a report in 2015 after 17 former and serving cabin crew filed suit against various British airlines for prolonged exposure to "contaminated" cabin air. 

Learn more about Aerotoxic Syndrome and how your airline can avoid it


The majority of the debate is around whether the levels of TCP (Tri Cresyl Phosphates), originating in the engine bleed air, are harmful over both short and long durational exposure. Multiple studies have found reputable advocates for both sides of the argument.

Despite the various studies and reports being published by multiple safety agencies, there is a lot of contentious, non-scientific misinformation circulated through popular media. These studies look into the legitimacy of what IATA refers to as Cabin Air Quality Events(CAQE's). Claims of various illnesses due to CAQE' s–and their coverage in the press–seem to be growing in frequency. 

The cost of these claims may or may not ever result in financial loss, but their coverage in the public sphere can do substantial damage to an airlines brand value. They can chip away at the sensitive trust, which passengers and flight crew put into an airline. This could potentially lead to flights going to a competitor to avoid the "real or imagined" threat posed by poor cabin air quality. 

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About this blog

This blog is driven by Satair Marketing & Communication with input from both internal and external contributors.