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Raindance Film Festival Review: ‘Everybody Flies’

'Everybody Flies' documentary written and directed by Tristan Lorraine (courtesy of the film)
Tristan Lorraine wrote and directed the documentary ‘Everybody Flies’ (courtesy of the film)

Before the pandemic how many times a year did you fly on a commercial airline? Did you ever smell anything in the ambient air during the flight? If you did, was the smell like stinky feet?

Tristan Lorraine, former Airline Captain directed and wrote the documentary Everybody Flies, presented by Fact Not Fiction Films. The documentary highlights an explosive revelation about something we take for granted on flights because we trust the aviation industry, the FAA and airline companies to build flight worthy aircraft that will not crash. Indeed, statistics have proven that flying is safer than driving. But is it?

If we examine the interior of planes and specifically the environment within the cabin, we must reconsider airline safety. After seeing Lorraine’s film, one may think twice about getting on an older aircraft of an airline company that has recorded toxic fume events which are highly dangerous and have led to debilitating physical conditions for those who were not only passengers but especially for the flight crews who over time suffer from the cumulative effects of breathing toxic air.

An aircraft toxic fume event occurs when bleed air used for cabin pressurization and air conditioning in a pressurized aircraft is contaminated by fluids such as engine oil, hydraulic fluid, anti-icing fluid, and other potentially hazardous chemicals which are carcinogenic and also cause nerve damage. Some events are visible and all are aware of the smoky, misty air which smells like what it is, air contaminated by dangerous substances. But other times the toxic molecules are invisible, not apprehended by the passengers or crew. Nevertheless, if one checks for these substances by testing the furniture, walls and other surfaces in the cabin interior, their residue is present, indicating the air is contaminated microscopically.

Using longitudinal research over eighteen years compiling videos of comprehensive eye-witness testimony, factual scientific data and evidence about toxic bleed air, Lorraine makes the inexorable case that not only does poisonous air waft into plane cabins, that air causes severe physical and mental damage to victims who suffer after fume events from the harmful chemicals they inhaled. In one instance Lorraine interviews a pilot. He became paralyzed and couldn’t move his arms. But for the co-pilot the plane might have crashed.

The specific chemical pollutant which Lorraine discovered in the leaking oil that is most devastating is tricresyl phosphate (TCP). Though at one time the air filtration systems and compressors not connected to engines prevented toxic chemicals from entering the air supply, those systems were abandoned. Instead, the current system which is subject to engine oil leak bleeds and toxic cabin air is present on every plane, If there is an engine oil leak, despite Hepa filters, invisible molecules infiltrate the air conditioning and invade the passengers’ and crew members’ lungs.

Interestingly, Hepa filters can strain out virus molecules; so COVID-19 can’t be spread easily on planes. However, Hepa filters do not strain out the smaller molecules in TCP. Although fume events don’t happen regularly because they are a function of a number of problems occurring together, minor events are more prevalent. It is these that have a cumulative effect on frequent flyers, flight crews and those who travel more during the year than those passengers who fly once every four to five years.

Lorraine’s interviews with airline staff and passengers are spot-on. Because Lorraine experienced a toxic fume event which ended his career, he knows which questions to ask and which to use to follow up for specific noteworthy details. Ironically, until doctors eventually identified the cause of the poisonings in former airline staff who were perplexed by their physical suffering, the air quality issues on planes were diminished by regulating agencies in collusion with airline companies and manufacturers. Air quality problems were dismissed and “company men” using a “banality of evil” modus operandi compared the air quality in planes to that in home kitchens and other benign environments.

Lorraine proves to be thorough in his investigations to smack down the lies of the airline industry which is more concerned about profit than the people on their flights. With a toxicity monitoring device Lorraine measures the air quality in various places from his kitchen to a London street to an airplane cabin. By comparison the cabin’s toxicity numbers were astronomical, proving the regulators and companies cannot to be trusted to have their clients best interests or welfare at heart. Of course, holding to account airline companies, chemical manufacturers, the FAA and other agencies who regulate the use of such chemicals has been difficult. Not only have airlines been in collusion with the FAA, etc., they have stalked and investigated litigants who sued them after toxic fume events, as Lorraine revealed in interview video clips with toxic fume event sufferers.

'Everybody Flies,' Tristan Lorraine, documentary, Raindance Film Festival
‘Everybody Flies’ (courtesy of the film)

According to the research accomplished for the film the Federal Aviation Administration identified “204 fume events recorded in its ‘Service Difficulty Reports’ (SDR) database since October.” Recently, there have been notable events, one including Spirit Airlines in 2018. A “noxious, burning odor” caused a Spirit Airline plane to make an emergency landing July 27th 2018. The flight was diverted to Myrtle Beach International Airport in South Carolina after passengers identified the fumes and subsequently were treated for headaches, nausea and difficulty breathing. No one swabbed down the plane to check for a residue of chemicals. They should have.

Interestingly, there was no hazardous material found on the plane. Nevertheless, the 220 people on board had breathed in and filtered through their lungs and into their blood streams poisonous molecules. Passenger Mary Vincent Randall filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court about the smell which caused her “serious and permanent injuries.” Hopefully, her litigation will be successful.

Lorraine points out that lawsuits for damages because of toxic fume events can go on for years and end up costing the litigants thousands. The companies have lawyers on retainer and are willing to spend the money to bankrupt them in order to make the litigant “go away.” Averse to negative publicity, airline companies will move heaven and earth to prevent “bad press” from tarnishing what they have promoted as a safe mode of travel. This is why the truth has not gotten out to the flying public who, when they find out and it hits critical mass, will force the industry to make corrections insuring there is safe air on all planes.

Until then, the airline industry’s reprobate, negligent behaviors persist. Lorraine points out the horrific irony of this. The problem could be solved with filters more effective than Hepa filters to prevent contaminants from entering the cabin via bleed air. And the FAA and regulators could mandate all airline companies change the air systems on planes so that the air filtration systems and compressors are not connected to engines.

Lorraine has devoted years of his life to provoke all those in the industry to make airplanes as safe as their reputations say they are. With his hard work as evidenced in this film to alert the public, and with the efforts of the unions as attention is brought to the issue, change is happening, though it is slow.

Most importantly, Lorraine’s whistleblowing reminds us that the airline industry is more concerned about profits than people and that is why some consider the solutions to fix the problem too onerous to do anything about. On the flip side Lorraine shows that other companies are making effective changes by using different air filtration systems which actually are not more costly. He highlights that the Boeing 787 is one such plane that has a safer air filtration system. Additionally, using a stronger, more efficient filter that locks out the toxic molecules would make a great difference in preventing the hazards of toxic fume events in cabin air.

Lorraine’s documentary is a wake up call for the public. We must be aware of the potential catastrophe of the possibility of toxic fume events to petition congressional representatives. Above all we must show continued, fervent support for airline industry unions as they endeavor to make cabin air safe. Considering that before the pandemic, millions of people were flying every day, and now the numbers are millions fewer, the hiatus has some positive consideration for passengers and crew who are on international long hour flights not experiencing toxic fume events simply by not flying. For the longer one is on a plane with invisible contaminated air molecules, the greater the physical harm. In relaying the information Lorraine’s message is clear with credible and frightening documentation as we see ourselves in the shoes of those witnesses who have suffered from toxic air poisoning.

Everybody Flies is a must see film, especially if you are a frequent flyer. The airline industry must be held accountable. The changes which will insure safe cabins along with comfortable flights must become a universal, global mandate. Lorraine’s documentary goes a long way in helping to make this possible.

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