Embargo: Immediate Monday 19 May 2008

Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659


The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has today published their commentary on the Government's response to their report Air Travel and Health: an Update.

The Committee's report was published in December 2007 and made a range of recommendations including:

  • The Aviation Health Unit (AHU) to become the body responsible for handling passenger queries and complaints about health issues.
  • A limit of 30 minutes for the period passengers can wait on board an aircraft when the ventilation systems are non-operational.

While the Government accepted many of the Committee's recommendations they rejected others, including the two set out above.

The Government rejected calls for the AHU to become the body responsible for handling complaints from passengers on health issues. The Committee regard this decision as a 'lost opportunity'. The Committee argues that as the Government have statutory responsibility for the health of persons on board aircraft there should be a way of communicating health concerns when the current system fails. The Committee states that concerns about the effectiveness of the complaints handling process should be addressed by placing responsibility for dealing with complaints on health issues with the AHU.

The Committee is also disappointed that the Government rejected their recommendation that there should be a 30 minute limit on the amount of time passengers should remain in an aircraft when the ventilation systems are non-operational. The Committee points out that the risk of the spread of infectious diseases on board an aircraft increases significantly when passengers are closely confined in the aircraft with no effective filtration.

If the Government will not accept this recommendation for a 30 minute limit, the Committee believes that a reporting system should be put in place to record those instances when a 30 minute period is exceeded in order to put pressure on airlines to do everything possible to avoid such events.

Commenting Lord Patel, who played an active part in the Committee's inquiry into air travel and health, said:

"While we are pleased the Government accepted many of our recommendations we have concerns that they failed to take up our proposals on the role of the Aviation Health Unit and on the 30 minute limit on the time that passengers can be confined to a non-ventilated aircraft.

"It is important that passengers feel they have an avenue of complaint to aviation health experts if they are affected by an aviation related health problem The AHU could have an important role to play here and we are disappointed the Government have missed that opportunity,

"While it is accepted that the wide risk of disease transmission in a fully functioning aircraft is negligible, evidence suggest that the risk of the spread of infectious diseases increases when the ventilation systems are not operational for long periods of time. Indeed the Word Health Organisation recommends the time limit of 30 minutes. If the Government is unable to support our call for a legal time limit they should certainly introduce a reporting mechanism so there is pressure on airlines to reduce instances of long delays on unventilated planes."

Notes to Editors

1. The Committees report Air Travel and Health and Update, the Government's response and the Committee's commentary on that response are all available online at:

For further information or to request and interview with Lord Patel, please contact Owen Williams, Committee Press Officer on 020 7219 8659.