British Airways A380 Diverts After Crew Members Become Sick

Filed Under: British Airways

While airline diversions happen all the time, this has to be one of the stranger ones we’ve heard of in a while.

Yesterday’s BA286 from San Francisco to London was diverted to Vancouver after all 25 crew members (including three pilots and 22 cabin crew) apparently became sick. The flight was operated by an Airbus A380 carrying roughly 400 passengers, though it’s interesting that only the crew reported getting sick, and not any of the passengers.

British-Airways-Lounge-London - 40

As you can see on the below FlightAware map, the plane was actually much closer to Calgary when they made the decision to divert. I’m not sure if they instead flew the A380 to Vancouver because the airport is A380-ready, or whether it’s because they were above their maximum landing weight, and knew they’d need to dump fuel either way.


Regardless, all 25 crew members were brought to hospitals when the plane landed, and were released within a couple of hours.

There are conflicting reports of what exactly happened to the crew. Initial reports suggested that all 25 crew members were actually “ill” and suffered from smoke inhalation, while revised reports suggest that smoke inhalation wasn’t the cause of the incident, and that many of the crew members were just brought to the hospital as a precaution.

Per the Vancouver Sun:

British Airways spokesperson Michele Kropf said no passengers were taken to the hospital.

Kropf said earlier media reports that the crew suffered smoke inhalation were incorrect.

Vancouver Coastal Health’s Gavin Wilson said 25 people were assessed at three area hospitals, in Vancouver, Richmond and Delta.

“British Airways tells us they were all crew members, no passengers,” he said.

All 25 were released within hours, said Wilson, noting initial reports that the crew had been treated for smoke inhalation were being revised.

Fortunately it seems like everyone is okay, though this sure is a rather bizarre story. It would be one thing if some passengers and some crew were getting sick, but the fact that it was exclusively crew members is a bit strange. I doubt it’s that they all had food poisoning or anything, as the entire crew isn’t typically going to eat exactly the same thing on a layover.

I’m curious what comes of the investigation, assuming the findings are made public.

  1. FYI, they were initially diverting to YYC but then decided to go to YVR for a variety of reasons including as you mentioned weight, but primarily also because YYC was CAT III operations only at the time due to fog. Presumably the situation wasn’t deemed serious enough to require a landing ASAP.

  2. My best guesses are

    -Crew meal was bad, although I doubt they all would have eaten at that time (although could have been on the crew meal coming in)
    -There was some issue with the hotel cleaning/dry cleaning chemicals although I doubt they all sent out laundry

  3. Somebody brought bad potato salad to the crew party before the flight? Or nobody knew that those brownies were extra “special”?

  4. Looks like the crew was playing games with calling in sick, for reasons not known to the public. I doubt they were actually sick.

  5. They couldn’t make it however long it is to get to SFO? Like what, an hour? Completely ridiculous. Even if you’re continuously throwing up you can make it just one more hour. Think of the inconvenience to the 500ish passengers, the cost to the company, etc, vs the comfort of 25. Crazy.

  6. This is really weird. How were 25 people fine to start work and then a few hours later every single one was sick?

  7. @Nolan Why would returning to San Francisco be more inconvenient for all the passengers than heading to YVR? The aircraft wasn’t heading TO San Francisco it was flying FROM it.

  8. Dr. Rumack: What was it we had for dinner tonight?
    Elaine Dickinson: Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.
    Dr. Rumack: Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.

  9. @Ziggy Many of the folks on board may not have Canadian Visas. They were flying from US to Britain so no need for Canadian Visas
    Plus if they are SFO locals they can go home and come back the next day for a flight. Now they are stuck in Vancouver till a new plane comes in.

    BTW this is fishy. The pilot and copilot are given different meals to avoid food poisoning and the crew gets pretty much the same meals as the passengers so it cant be that the crew got sick and none of the passengers. Even smoke inhalation should have affected everyone.

    This is more likely a case of Unions calling in sick with maximum possible disruption or a case of rendition where Canada wants to arrest someone (this is unlikely as Canada is generally not as cowboyish as US) or possibly a bomb threat.

  10. My buddy is a BA pilot and generally the crew DO all go out to eat together (something he complains about when he’s here in Toronto since they always go to the same place near the hotel). It’s entirely possible they all ate at the same place and got sick at the same time (gestation period for food poisoning can be up to five days, and the environmental factors they were subjected to were all the same since they’re in the same hotel, and flying in the same piece of metal)

  11. AV Herald tells a completely different story. Sickness was caused by fumes, and it was 20 crew and 5 pax, not 25 crew.

    ” reporting a number of crew and passenger were feeling sick due to fumes on board detailing “toxic gasses” when the controller understood “low on fuel”. The aircraft landed safely on Vancouver’s runway 08L about 105 minutes later. Ambulances took 25 occupants to local hospitals.

    Vancouver Hospitals reported 25 patients, 20 crew and 5 passengers, suffering from smoke inhalation have been taken to three hospitals in Vancouver. 20, all of them members of the crew, were later discharged.”

  12. YYC has a 380 capable runway but doesn’t have a 380 capable gate in their old intl terminal nor a remote stand big enough to handle one either (they will when their new intl terminal opens on Monday) so YVR was the closest airport that can handle a 380 and their passengers. And they probably chose YVR over YEG as they don’t fly to YEG and were probably not familiar with the airport and the emergency wasn’t that bad… Dunno it’s still kinda suspicious with no passengers getting sick however!

  13. Wow, cynical bunch on here today! Absolutely zero chance of it being union related as cabin crew are mainly with BASSA and flight crew with BALPA and there is no affiliation/alignment/love and kindness between the two.

    Likewise, all the crew don’t eat together, certainly not at BA. Whilst many might go out downroute the chances of a whole combined crew of an A380 going out together is as likely as Heathrow and Gatwick agreeing on who should have a new runway first.

    Much more likely is that this is fume event, as I believe the protocol in this situation would be that all the crew would be checked out my medics, including cabin and flight crew. So rather than a conspiracy theory about security, a dodgy team curry, or a dastardly union rise, I’d think that an aerotoxic syndrome incident is more likely. . A hot topic for a lot of crew.

  14. So I’m sitting in the air Canada lounge at YVR on my way to London and the BA A380 is sitting out in the de-icing area. I’m curious what happens to the plane – I don’t see anything on the boards for an extra flight today, but I suppose this evening is the earliest a new crew could dead head in directly to YVR, so it makes sense that it’s still here. Maybe some lucky Vancouver passengers will get a pleasant upgrade on their way to LHR! Anyway just being a curious airplane geek wondering how this errant A380 gets home!

  15. My wife and I flew LHR to LAX on an A380 a few days ago and had a wonderful experience with that captain and crew. Certainly we saw no signs of industrial action or technical problems. I hope they’re all right.

  16. somehow i don’t believe that 25 adults decided unanimously to play hooky from work by simultaneously getting sick because of “unions strike again” or whatever conspiratorial theory

  17. @David
    Vancouver has daily a 380 service from BA so if flying to LHR on BA that’s what you fly anyway. Eyewitness report on the evening news said that as soon as the plane landed all crew grabbed their bags and left the plane with the passengers sitting there. No explanation at all.

  18. “The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner.”

  19. Local news in SFO covered this tonight with some interviews. Apparently no pax impacted and it seems like when the plane landed it was all crew off before pax were even off. Definitely fishy.

  20. Well obviously they all did an activity together that made them sick. Whether it was going out and eating the same food, or be in an area with some type of infection. Obviously it was all of them together on their layover, or it would have affected the passengers as well.

  21. What’s interesting to me is what happens to the passengers with any kind of criminal record? Since Canadian immigration doesn’t allow any visitors with criminal records into Canada, even so much as a DUI. Are they stuck on the plane?

  22. @ ABE

    Wow…. Not even a DUI how did George W get to visit. Or lets say Randy Quaid. The criminal visa issue is for long term stay not an overnight in the airport. Please get your facts right. Currently there are 51 nation states that are not required to have Visa’s to travel to Canada, including the U.S. and all of the Schengen states.

    I think they just wanted to visit Vancouver and did not know about the Visit Vancouver website.

  23. @Big G – 380 service to YVR is seasonal and finished for the year:

    The flight was initially diverted to Calgary, but since the medical emergency was deemed not so urgent, they instead made the decision to go to Vancouver, as there are appropriate A380 facilities at YVR. As for the cause, perhaps they ate a funky hotel breakfast? All local media reports and statements from Vancouver Coastal Health state that all affected were crew members, who were taken to and shortly thereafter released from three local hospitals. All in all an odd story, and I hope they publish the outcome.

  24. I talked to a passenger on this flight in the Centurion lounge at SEA tonight. I overheard him being interviewed via Skype by some media outlet, and I chatted with him afterward. He was completely perplexed by the incident and had no idea what might have actually happened.

  25. BA has become a basket case, but there are enough brits on internet to clean up any negative comments. Company need to be fixed not sanitizing social media.

  26. @John
    It is to show case to rest of the world how professional they are, so others will hire them to run their own airlines. Best example is EK. Dubai rulers hired them for their skills and now UK getting $3B-$4B in terms of expat salaries and all PR contracts to UK firms. If that image gets tarnished and without much prospects within the country, there will be lot of unemployed.

    Hence its image need to be protected at any cost.

  27. Fascinating. I was on an AA flight from Heathrow to JFK last month that took off, flew for an hour and returned to London because half of the crew were sick. The claim was the same — that they had inhaled fumes. But given that the crew were described as feverish I’m more inclined to believe food poisoning as well. They had the temp turned down so cold to make the crew comfortable that I was shivering and was almost glad we turned around. There was no coverage in the press at all. Interesting that AA managed to avoid any press when this one got so much coverage.

  28. One explanation is that the crew probably was on the plane well before the passengers. Perhaps they had something building up in their system when on the ground. From what I read, there are many airlines investigating a380 fume including Quantas, Lufthansa.

    And it’s going just right over your heads like a B52-Bomber!! Don’t you see?? Don’t you realize what’s ACTUALLY happening here? OK – I shall let loose this heavily classified information, but I will tell you, you’re really not gonna like it – cause the truth – it ain’t real popular – it ain’t real trendy, the truth will hurt, but ultimately – the truth is just that – the real truth without any fancy 3 lettered acronyms or popular theories as to Why that plane made that stop as far out & as highly skewed as it did…
    Well here’s the REAL reason —–> It goes without saying that there are multiple different types of maps people use out there, with the most common being the Mercator projection map. Then there is the much less common, but still used by some, especially on the sea by ships, and that one being the thousand year old Geocentric Azimuthal Equidistant projection map – That is exactly without a shadow of a doubt – our world!!

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