from that day. The union rep was shocked and said “you’re sacking her?” I had never been late, never had a disciplinary, never had a complaint made
I knew we needed a place where we could all head straight to when there was bad news. A place where we could share information, memories, photos and find comfort.
A few days later, on holiday in Dorset, I headed to the internet café, settled down with a cappuccino, and tentatively set about creating a group. My technical skills are extremely limited, so with no expectation of success I clicked on ‘create group’. I wrote a short description and hit ‘post.’ I was totally unprepared for the reaction. Within minutes people were asking to join and I’d had a message from Dallas McIntosh offering to help me run the group. Seconds later Scott from buddhascotch was offering to help with the branding & marketing of Angel Fleet and created a logo for us. For the last 3 ½ years buddhascotch has provided all their services for free and we are so grateful for their continuing help, support and time. Dallas & Scott have become very dear friends and Angel Fleet wouldn’t be what it is today without their help & input. Within hours we had over a thousand members, the membership has continued to grow and today we have just under 10,000 members. Scott has set up a shop where we sell Angel Fleet key rings and other gifts. The money raised helps us to send condolence cards, gifts and sometimes a small contribution towards funeral expenses to our Angels’ families. We accept donations if anyone would like to help us by contributing. Paul Abbott, another former crew member, has joined our team of volunteers and regularly comes over to help. Sadly, my list has also continued to grow and I now have over 650 names on it. In 2015 we made our first Angel Fleet tribute video to our Angels and we are now working on the second, which we hope will be available on DVD for family & friends to buy at cost price before Christmas.
In 2008, after many years of gradually declining health, I flew back from Cape Town, on what turned out to be my last flight ever as a Cabin Service Director for British Airways. A few weeks later I heard the term ‘Aerotoxic Syndrome’ for the first time. A newspaper article said that organophosphates present in aircraft engine oil were contaminating the breathing air inside passenger cabins. Suddenly everything made sense and all my symptoms were explained. I took the article to my doctor and he agreed, that was what I had been describing to him for over 10 years.
I began the long, slow, painful fight to regain my health that continues to this day, nearly 10 years after my last flight.
After I’d been on sick leave for a year, while I was waiting to see a company doctor, I picked up a copy of the weekly British Airways News. There were 2 cabin crew deaths reported in the obituary column, both only in their 40s. That made me wonder how many had died in the year I’d been away. The company doctor said there was no evidence Aerotoxic Syndrome exists and, “if there was a problem, British Airways really would want to know about it.”
I decided to set about finding out if there was a problem, and, if so, how bad it was. I looked up every copy of BA News that was available online and printed out the obituary columns. There were 34 months of back copies and 32 cabin crew deaths reported in them. Almost 1 a month and the youngest was only 27. I compiled these names into a list with their ages and the fleet they had been flying on. I looked at these familiar names of my colleagues and, with tears streaming down my face, I made them a promise that I would not let them be forgotten. I didn’t know then what form it would take, but I knew I had to do something. I sent this list to the doctor I’d seen and asked if a crew member dying nearly every month was a problem they should be investigating? The day that letter arrived another crew member died, aged 48, in Hong Kong. I didn’t ever receive a reply from the doctor but later that same week my manager rang and asked me to come in for a meeting.
illness so I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t wait for me to get better. I was determined not to let it show that I was upset, so with as much dignity as I could muster I stood up, looked her straight in the eye and said, "I won't go quietly".
I continued to add names to my list, but with my access to the company intranet withdrawn it became harder to find out when crew passed away. I began posting on forums trying to raise awareness of the problem and campaigning for safer air travel. I was running a website called Toxic Free Airlines and I’d begun doing a Crew Health Survey. More and more sick crew began contacting me and I tried to advise them as best I could. One day I received an e mail from a young crew member, he told me about the serious health problems he was having, even managing to make a joke about it. My heart bled for him, he shouldn’t have been going through that at only 29. In my reply to him I said he must impress upon his doctor that Aerotoxic Syndrome can be life threatening and should be taken seriously. His name was Matt Bass.
At the back of my mind an idea had begun to grow that we needed a place where we could remember all the lovely crew members who were no longer with us. I needed to keep my promise to them that we would never forget them. I even knew what I would call it ……. Angel Fleet. Our colleagues don’t die, they transfer to Angel Fleet and are all together having a giant room party in the sky. But I was busy, trying to cope with life when you have chronic fatigue is a challenge to say the least. I was also a single parent, had dogs to walk and was trying to keep up with replying to all the emails from crew and the press, who were becoming more interested in my Crew Health Survey that had been published in 2011. Then one awful day in early 2014 I had a message to say that a 34 year old crew member had died
the previous evening. His name was Matt Bass.
The day before his funeral I wanted to know where it was to be held as I would like to have gone but I couldn’t find any information about it on social media. It was 10pm by the time I found out and too late to book a dog sitter.
Angel Fleet was created just for British Airways crew but because of the worldwide interest it has received we have now started Angel Fleet International, where crew from any airline can post their memories & tributes too. The colours of Angel Fleet are blue & white to represent the sky and the clouds and are not the colours of any particular airline.
It was losing Matt Bass that spurred me on to create the group and to keep my promise to the crew members who are no longer with us, so we call him our Inspiration Angel. The poem in our condolence cards was written specially for us by former crew member, Pam Hill. The last 2 lines are particularly beautiful and we have adopted them as our slogan……
Up to this point she had always promised to support me, even going so far as to say “we couldn’t sack you even if we wanted to,” so I had no reason to believe this
meeting was anything other than a routine catch up. I took a Union rep with me though, just in case I needed a witness. She got straight to the point and asked if I understood what the doctor had said. I replied yes, I would be allowed to do ground work in 6 months’ time. My manager said she had also been told the same, however she was not going to give me 6 months, instead she was going to give me 3 months' notice and my contract of employment would be terminated 3 months'
against me by a passenger or other crew member, my only crime was to get ill. Poisoned by the unfiltered air I’d breathed onboard. I was shocked, angry and upset. All the times I’d put work before my family, spent special occasions away from them and it was all for nothing. There was to be no help, no treatment or rehabilitation, I was no longer of use to them. They had stopped paying me 6 months into my
“Living safe in our hearts,
they will fly on forever.”