Embargo: 10:00am Wednesday 12 December 2007
Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659


The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has today published a follow up report to its highly influential report Air Travel and Health.

Returning to the subject they initially reported on in 2000, the Committee argues that the Government is wrong to tax 'premium economy' services on long haul flights at the same £80 rate as first class travel rather than the standard £40 charge. It points out that premium economy was intended to represent a small extra charge to guarantee extra leg room for those who required it. The Committee feels that an extra tax on those who may have a medical need for extra leg room is unfair.

The Committee also calls on the Civil Aviation Authority to implement the recommendation of their own research and increase the regulatory minimum distance between seats on commercial aircraft from 26 inches to at least 28.2 inches. This is equivalent to a seat pitch of around 30 inches depending on the type of seat.

While most UK airlines already operate in accordance with the recommendation, the Committee feels this should be guaranteed by the CAA. The fact that many airlines already provide this suggests a regulatory requirement would not place onerous demands on the industry.

The Committee does not feel there is yet adequate scientific evidence to prove a link between contaminated air events and long term ill health. However, the Committee has received enough anecdotal evidence to convince it that this is an area that needs further in-depth research. It has strengthened its position from that taken in the 2000 report where it was argued that the risks from contaminated air events were not substantiated.

The Committee was very concerned to hear from the unions in evidence that fatigue in pilots may be putting passengers' lives at risk. The Committee recommends the CAA should work with Government, the airlines and the unions to ensure pilots have appropriate rest periods and call for the CAA to commission a long term study in to the effects of fatigue on air crew.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • The Committee raises concerns about the proposals to transfer many of the CAA's health responsibilities to the European Aviation Safety Agency stating that until the EASA is shown to be competent to exercise such responsibilities the regulation of health risks associated with flying should remain with the CAA.

  • The Committee calls for the CAA to do more to raise the profile of the Aviation Health Unit amongst passengers and airlines. It argues that many people are unaware of the existence or role of the AHU leaving them unsure of how to register concerns about flight associated health risks. The report states the AHU should become the focus for all those interested in aviation health matters.

  • The Government and the Research Councils should explore ways to increase the research capacity into aviation health issues particularly into how jet lag can influence other health risks.

  • There should be more advice to passengers about the benefits of good hand hygiene on board flights and in particular passengers should be encouraged to wash their hands prior to eating on board to reduce the risks of in flight infection transfer.

Commenting Lord Patel, who played an active part in the Committee's inquiry, said:

"We are also disappointed that the Government's increase in tax on air travel last February resulted in premium economy seats being taxed at the same level as first class travel. Premium economy was intended to offer a relatively affordable option for those who need extra leg room be it for comfort or due to a medical condition. The current £80 tax rate on long haul flights will make this option unaffordable for many passengers.

"We are very concerned that the CAA has failed to follow up the recommendations of its own research and increase the regulatory minimum distance between seats to above 28 inches. In the event of an emergency the current minimum of 26 inches would not allow many passengers to adopt the recommended brace position.

"Air crew occupational health has featured heavily in our report. We heard concerns from the unions that the work schedules of pilots working for low-cost airlines may be putting passengers' lives at risks. The CAA must ensure that airlines provide sufficient rest periods to pilots

"With regards to contaminated air events we conclude that there is not yet adequate scientific evidence to prove a link between contaminated air events and long-term ill health. However, we have received enough anecdotal evidence to convince us that this is an area that needs further in-depth research. We therefore welcome the research project that the Aviation Health Working Group has initiated into this issue as a step in the right direction. In the meantime we call on the Government to make available to health professionals a medical protocol on how to deal with air crew who suffer contaminated air events."

Notes to Editors

  1. The report Air Travel and Health: an Update, is available from the Stationery Office, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 1st Report of 2007/08, HL Paper 7.

  2. The report will be available online shortly after publication at:

  3. The Committee's previous report on Air Travel and Health, published in 2000 is also available online at:

For copies of the report, or to request an interview with Lord Patel, Committee Spokesman on this report, please contact Owen Williams, Committee Press Officer on 020 7219 8659.