OSHA finds American Airlines retaliated against flight attendants reporting illnesses from cabin fumes

An American Airlines flight takes off.
Nathan Coats from Seattle, WA, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Len Varley - Assistant Editor 3 Min Read
3 Min Read

LONDON – The US Department of Labor has found that American Airlines retaliated against flight attendants who reported illnesses caused by toxic fumes in aircraft cabins.

In a statement issued by the Department’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) section on January 4, the Department has confirmed:

“Federal safety and health investigators have determined that one of the nation’s largest airlines retaliated against flight attendants who reported worker illnesses caused by toxic fumes entering aircraft cabins.”

A whistleblower investigation initiated on Aug. 2, 2022, by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found American Airlines Inc. retaliated against employees who filed complaints about the illnesses with the company.

Flight attendants alleged the airline docked attendance points and discouraged them from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses.

The OSHA proposed $6,837 in penalties following its investigation.

OSHA Director statement

“Federal law protects workers’ rights to voice workplace safety and health concerns without the fear of retaliation,” said OSHA Area Director Timothy Minor in Fort Worth, Texas.

“When employers punish employees for doing so, they create a chilling effect that may stop workers from reporting future issues, putting their health and well-being, and that of co-workers, at risk.”

“Our investigation found that the flight attendants engaged in protected activities when they reported illnesses related to jet fuel fumes seeping into the aircraft cabin,” Minor added.

“Workers must feel empowered to inform managers and others about potential hazards that jeopardize workers’ safety and health.”   

American Airlines

Based in Fort Worth, American Airlines Inc. operates an extensive international and domestic network with almost 6,800 flights to nearly 350 destinations in more than 50 countries.

The company employs about 109,016 employees, which includes approximately 24,000 flight attendants.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of more than 20 whistleblower statutes. 

These statutes protect employees from retaliation for reporting violations of various workplace safety and health and includes airlines.

The OHSA statement did not discuss whether any passengers were affected during the reported incidents of toxic fumes in the aircraft cabin.

According to Associated Press reports, an American Airlines scheduled flight enroute from Miami to Barbados was forced to make a return to the departure airport after fumes filled the cabin in October last year.

The source of what was described as a “strong chemical odor” in that instance was a passenger’s carry-on bag.

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