How safe is the air on commercial flights?

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CHICAGO -- A WGN investigation has uncovered what one lawsuit calls the "dirty little secret" of the commercial airline industry.

Millions of people get on and off planes every day without ever noticing a thing.

But while flying, have you ever gotten a whiff of a nasty smell, which might have burned the eyes, made the throat sore, left you dizzy, with a headache or even disoriented?  You’re about to hear exactly what that might have been.  And it’s not good.  It may be toxic. It’s what one lawsuit calls a dirty little secret of the commercial airline industry. It’s hidden in what we call the Boeing Papers.  A WGN investigation uncovered emails, documents and research that every flying passenger should see.

While hundred ton planes crisscross the sky today, go back to a time when it wasn’t always so.

Back in the day, Boeing proudly promoted the maiden flight of its new 747 Super Jet. But well before that marvel took off, documents show Boeing knew a design feature was already an engineering headache.

It’s called the “bleed air system.” Outside air is sucked through the engine and in effect bled off, diverted to the cabin and recirculated with air passengers are already breathing.

It could be a flaw in the system.

A 1953 report from Boeing on the air contamination problem, along with a handful of other industry reports, show the harmful potential when heated toxic jet engine oil can seep into cabin air.

When it goes wrong and oil leaks, airplane cabin air smells sort of like a dirty, wet sock, burnt oil or glue.  Maybe you’ve smelled or seen the smoke in the cabin.

Here’s what important: It is still happening six decades later.

Read the full report from WGN here.

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