Smelly Air in the Cabin? Sourced to the Vents? Know What to Do

Print this article and keep it with you in case you need it == Information is also posted here.


Everyone knows that there are plenty of smells (also known as FUMES – odorous, invisible compounds) in the cabin air. This Eline is intended to give you some tips for how to recognize and respond to potentially toxic fumes.  Pay attention to all unpleasant, unexplained fumes (odors) in the cabin, but use the information in this Eline to distinguish those that matter most.

The air that comes through the vents in the cabin is first compressed, either in the aircraft engines (inflight) or in the APU (on the ground). That air isn’t filtered before you breathe it, and can sometimes be polluted with various types of fumes. The fumes that matter the most are engine oil and hydraulic fluid. Sometimes, you will “just” notice a bad smell, other times you may also notice a smoke or haze. But if the fumes (smell) is coming from the vents, then you need to report it to the flight deck right away.  There are  other types of fumes can contaminate the air coming from the cabin air vents, too, such as deicing fluid, fuel, engine exhaust, and ozone. So, use your situational awareness skills,  be aware of your environment, report problems, and read on…

What To Do If You Think You’ve Been Exposed To Contaminated Ventilation Air

Being prepared and knowing what to do if fumes are coming from the air supply vents (a “fume event”) can help you and your crew get the help you need as quickly as possible.  Here’s what to do if you encounter fumes (unusual odors) with or without smoke/haze:

1.  Identify The Situation. 

  • Whether or not passengers are onboard, quickly try to figure out if the fumes are coming from the  air supply vents OR from something in the cabin, like a carry-on item or a coffee pot;
  • Also, quickly try to assess what the fumes smell like. Oil fumes are usually described as smelling like dirty socks, musty, foul, oily, or even electrical. Hydraulic fluid fumes are often described as smelling acrid. Remember that different people can describe the same smell differently;
  • Finally, quickly try to determine if the fumes are worse in the forward cabin or the aft cabin, or are about the same.  This information helps the pilots identify the source if the fumes are coming from the vents.
  • Report the type of odor and the location in the cabin to the pilots immediately, especially if the source is the air from the vents in the cabin OR if there is smoke/haze (or both); and
  • If no passengers are on board, and especially if you have symptoms, your priority is to deplane promptly, especially if maintenance workers board to troubleshoot the systems. 

2.  Get Help If You Feel Sick 

  • If still at the gate, Call your any Inflight Supervisor or use the Emergency number 954-756-5080. and contact MEDAire 480-379-1941.  IF advised by MEDAire ask the CSA to call paramedics and deplane, if possible; 
  • If in the air, notify the pilots, use oxygen if necessary;
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible so that your symptoms are documented. Bring these two documents to any medical appointment: (1) EITHER the Safety Data Sheet for BP2197 engine oil (if you think you breathed oil fumes) OR the Safety Data Sheet for Hyjet V hydraulic fluid; AND (2) This Health Care Providers’ Guide which explains to doctors how oil/hydraulic fluid can contaminate the cabin air.
  • Print and review the AFA bulletin: What Your Doctor Needs to Know, which are posted on this website.
  • Contact AFA for help:  1-855-4AFAHELP Call first:  Either your LEC or MEC AFA Safety/Health representative, or email them:  Backup: Judith Anderson, AFA Safety/Health Staff, international office: 206-932-6237 or
  • Print and review/complete the AFA fume event checklist and AFA practical advice bulletin, which are posted on this website.

3.  Report & Document 

  • File a Safety report with Spirit  within 24 hours of incident.
  • Keep printed copies of each report for your records
  • Email a copy of the completed injury form to  your AFA Safety/Health representative,
  • If sick, be sure your inflight supervisor has filed a worker’s compensation claim and see a doctor as quickly as possible. Claims do not start until you see a doctor. 
  • Keep a symptom diary and document everything with a doctor

4. Information Online

All of the information in this Eline is also available on a dedicated page of the AFA Spirit website

You can also visit the AFA International Aircraft Air Quality website for more information.