An inquiry is being demanded into toxic cabin air and fume events on board aircraft after passengers had to be evacuated from a smoke-filled British Airways flight.

The call came from the Unite union in the wake of Monday’s incident involving an Airbus A3231 service from Heathrow to Valencia.

Unite is supporting 51 high court actions against five UK airlines, citing independent expert evidence which concluded that the air in most commercial airline cabins “can cause irreversible neurological damage and chronic illness among susceptible individuals”.

The court cases involve pilots and cabin crew working for easyJet, BA, Thomas Cook Airlines, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic.

However, the 51 cases put forward by Unite have been delayed until 2021.

The union pointed to analysis by toxic cabin air campaigners that suggests the same aircraft involved in Monday’s incident was involved two previous fume events in June leading to the aircraft being grounded.

Unite assistant general secretary for legal affairs Howard Beckett said: “Far too often fume events like these go unreported and are brushed under the carpet by the airline industry. This latest fume event only came to light because members of the media were on board the flight.

“The airline industry cannot continue to hide from the issue of toxic cabin air whilst placing the health and safety of aircrew at risk.

“Independent expert evidence concludes that air on board jet planes can contain a toxic mix of chemicals and compounds that potentially damage the nervous system and may lead to chronic irreversible health problems in susceptible individuals.

“We need a public inquiry into the extent of fume events and toxic cabin air. The airline industry must start to take responsibility and clean up the cabin air on jet planes.”

Meanwhile, pilots’ union Balpa praised the pilots and crew involved.

“Clearly this aircraft suffered a technical problem which led to smoke entering the cabin and cockpit, the cause of which will need to be investigated,” a statement said.

 Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: “In this case, the pilots and crew appear to have done an excellent and highly-professional job of getting this aircraft safely onto the ground in very difficult circumstances, and safely evacuating all the passengers with no reported serious injuries. 

We believe the pilots landed this aircraft wearing full oxygen masks and goggles which is extremely challenging.

“We will await the accident report, but this looks to have been a very well-managed emergency situation, and overall a good outcome, and I pay tribute to the pilots and crew for a job very well done.”

 Travel Weekly has requested a comment from BA