January 14, 2009 - Suit Filed Over Airline De-icing Incident
A passenger who was gassed with de-icing fluid while aboard an Alaska Airlines flight on Christmas Eve has sued the Seattle-based carrier, claiming the blast of ice remover has caused persistent headaches.
On Dec. 24, Arianna Morgan boarded an Alaska flight at Sea-Tac International Airport expecting to fly to Burbank, Calif. Instead, she and 140 other people aboard were forced to abandon the plane when deicing fluid mist began filtering into the plane's interior.
In an initial account, airline officials said passengers suffered from eye and respiratory irritation but did not require medical care. Morgan, in recounting the incident, describes a more chaotic scene.
She was seated in the first-class cabin when a white mist began puffing out of the overhead vent system. Immediately, she said, passengers around her began coughing and tearing up due to the fumes.
"We really didn't have any idea what was happening," Morgan said. "I could tell something wasn't right."
The plane, a Boeing 737-800 series, was rushed back to the gate, where passengers piled onto the concourse wheezing from the fumes, Morgan said. Several people, including her, began to vomit uncontrollably; several began sucking air from oxygen tanks provided by paramedics.
Weeks have passed since the incident, but Morgan said she still feels the effects of the incident. Her headaches are nearly constant, she said, and waves of numbness wrack her body.
Complicating maters, she says she's not even sure what chemical she was exposed to. While Alaska Airlines asserts the passengers were exposed only to a relatively harmless deicing fluid, Morgan wonders if she wasn't hit with a more-reactive version also used in aviation.
"I'd really just like an answer to what I've been exposed to," said Morgan, speaking from Hollywood, Calif. "I feel poisoned."
Reached for comment Monday, airline spokeswoman Caroline Boren declined to discuss the suit in detail.
Boren, though, insisted that passengers were not exposed to ethylene glycol, a toxic substance used in antifreeze. She said the deicing crew was applying a nontoxic compound, propylene glycol, which also is used in toothpaste and as a food additive.
"The welfare of all our passengers is of the highest importance to us," said Boren, reading from a prepared statement. "We just received the complaint and are reviewing it."
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the incident is ongoing, investigator-in-charge Joshua Cawthra said. It has not yet been determined how the mist was able to breach the cabin.
Morgan's complaint was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, said her attorney.
While many plaintiffs wait months or years before filing suit, Morgan's attorney said her client wants to hear definitively which chemical she was exposed to so she can obtain proper medical care. Her attorney said the information might help others who were aboard the plane and still feeling the effects of the incident.
"It's terrifying to know that she sat next to a 4-week-old baby who was exposed to the same chemicals," the Seattle attorney said. "We want Alaska Airlines to tell the passengers what they exposed them to."
No passengers were hospitalized after the incident. Morgan said she would have sought medical attention but, concerned about the holiday rush and bad weather, didn't want to miss her chance to get home for Christmas.
Alaska has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. Morgan is seeking unspecified damages.