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Grounded Angel says flying wrecked her health

By Toby Neal | Mid Wales | Health | Published:

For Angel Brain her job as an air stewardess was a dream which turned into a nightmare.

She says she loved the life, the travel, and the pay, but the work atmosphere was, in a very literal sense, poisonous.

Angel began to feel ill, and could not understand why. She was forced to resign due to ill health.

She now lives in Mid Wales and is a campaigner, describing herself as a protagonist.

"I don't want anybody to go through what I'm going through. It will dismantle your whole life," she says.

"I want to inform as many people as possible about the dangers of flying. I'm seeking recognition of aerotoxic syndrome. I want it to be registered as an environmental and occupational hazard."

As a child she had been fascinated by travel and pioneer female flyers Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart, so when in 1993, at the age of 26, she became an air stewardess it was an opportunity she embraced.

Based in Bahrain in the Middle East, she was on a two-year contract with Gulf Air, and was quickly promoted to First Class, flying all over the world.

"I loved it. Who wouldn't? I found the work stimulating. I enjoyed meeting all the different nationalities. I was born to fly.

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"But then I started to experience a major change in my health. We used to get these really strong pungent smells in the aircraft cabins. It smelt like a wet dog, or really smelly socks, with smoke filling the aircraft.

"I would cough. I couldn't breathe properly and started to shake violently and have really horrible headaches. I started to get a lot of gastric problems, which was very unusual for me. I couldn't eat anything. It got worse and worse. I started to oversleep."

She was dating an airline captain and once he went away to work for two days and kissed her goodbye, only to come back to find her still in bed in exactly the same position, having not moved.

"He thought I was in a coma."

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Her problems were variously put down to the food poisoning, overworking, tiredness, or jet lag.

"It was all explained away and not really taken very seriously."

Then she started bleeding and lost weight. She suffered two miscarriages. Ultimately she lost her job.

"I couldn't perform my duties. I had become a liability. I was a shadow of the girl who had joined the airline."

With nobody providing her any answers to her satisfaction, she started a medical odyssey to discover what was going on.

"I didn't know what was wrong, but I knew it was something to do with flying because I was excellent health before I flew."

Her health problems continued, with her weight falling from eight and a half stones to six and a half.

"No-one could tell me what was going wrong. I spent two years crawling around the floor because I couldn't stand up. Those are what I call the hell years.

"In order to protect myself I moved to the middle of nowhere and completely detoxed my whole life 14 years ago when I was on death's door.

"Then in 2007 I read a newspaper article about 'fume events' and it talked about toxic cabin air. Bingo - this is what I've been trying to tell everybody.

"It had taken me from 1996 to 2007 to find out the truth of what had happened to me."

Since then she has been a campaigner, spreading awareness to cabin crew and passengers about "fume events." Angel is featured in a documentary film Unfiltered Breathed In - The Truth About Aerotoxic Syndrome. Flightoxic International is one of the campaign pages on Facebook, part of the Aerotoxic Team Global.

She said: "The air you are breathing while in flight is coming directly from the jet engines. It is all recycled. A fume event occurs when this bleed air used for cabin pressurisation and air conditioning is contaminated by chemicals - it could be jet fuel, engine oil, hydraulic fluid, de-icing fluid, as well as other hazardous chemicals.

"These will create a deadly neurotoxic cocktail, damaging the brain and central nervous system."

Angel says there is only one airliner, the Boeing Dreamliner 787, which does not use this bleed air system.

Over 20 years on from her flying days, she says she remains severely affected.

"Being multi-chemical sensitive makes it very difficult to go into supermarkets, shops, cinemas, places of worship, public toilets, taxis, and generally being around people, as people wear perfumes and use washing powders and fabric softeners."

These, she explains, spark a reaction in her, including streaming eyes and nose and violent headaches.

"I have to wear a mask in the worst places, but I don't like to go out that much - I'm probably 95 per cent housebound."

For the purposes of the interview she asked me not to arrive having applied aftershave, and to turn off my mobile phone. When she used her laptop to show the websites, she did not use wi-fi, but plugged it in with an Ethernet cable.

Angel is a girl guider in her local village, and the girls know about her history as an air stewardess.

"They think it's fabulous. When they tell me they want to be air stewardesses when they grow up, I tell them I want to make that a safe reality for them."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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