Fumes Cause First Officer To Become Unwell On British Airways Airbus A320

** Update 5/1/2020 @18:15 UTC – After publishing this article British Airways contacted Simple Flying to say that the first officer never passed out and that he was simply feeling unwell. A statement released by the airline about the incident read:

“The Captain safely landed the aircraft. As the First Officer was feeling unwell, he was seen by an airport paramedic as a precaution, before going home.”**

A British Airways Airbus A320-200 first officer did not feel well after becoming overcome by fumes in the cockpit.


British Airways flight number BA-633 from Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos (ATH) to London Heathrow (LHD) was on final approach into London when the incident occurred.

British Airways A320neo
British Airways A320 lands safety despite first officer feeling slightly unwell. Photo: BA

According to the Aviation Herald the British Airways Airbus A320-200 registration number, G-EUYM was four nautical miles from Heathrow’s runway 27R when the captain reported fumes in the cockpit.

Donning his oxygen mask and declaring a Mayday, the captain of the aircraft advised the tower that he was continuing the approach before landing safely on runway 27R some two minutes later.


The captain said he could smell old socks

The Aviation Herald says that the incident occurred on January 2nd, 2020 and when looking at website FlightRadar24 we can see that the aircraft landed safely at 20:35 Thursday.

The captain of the flight said he smelled the odour of old socks and, while putting on his oxygen mask, noticed that the first officer had complained of not feeling well. The aircraft continued to make a safe landing, with cabin crew and passengers unaware of what had just happened.

According to the Aviation Herald, the aircraft was still on the ground at Heathrow Airport some 49 hours after the incident.

A similar incident happened in October

This latest incident of fumes on an Airbus narrow-body jet is just one of a string of incidents in which the cockpit of the aircraft became compromised.

On October 19th, 2019 a British Airways A320 on-route from London Gatwick (LGW) to Paphos International Airport (PFO) in Cyprus suffered a similar occurrence. While on approach descending through 8,000 feet the first officer asked the captain if he could smell onion bhajis, to which the captain replied “no.”

Then, just 30 seconds later, the first officer said that he felt a tingling sensation in his arms and legs and thought he was about to pass out. Reacting quickly he donned his oxygen mask and set the feed to 100% and told the captain that he felt unwell. The captain responded by saying he did not feel well either.

Captain and first officer go to the hospital after fumes in the cockpit. Photo: BA

Now with both pilots wearing their oxygen masks they went through their landing procedures safely bringing the plane down on runway 29 some 13 minutes later. Once on the ground they immediately opened the windows as they taxied to the stand

After the engine shutdown, the captain went to the toilet while a flight attendant was shocked when she saw how pale the first officer looked.

Again, just like with flight BA-633 the cabin crew and passengers could not smell any fumes. One of the flight attendants did, however, say that she smelt a strong fuel odour coming from the cockpit once the door had been opened.

Both pilots were taken to a local hospital for tests where they were diagnosed with very low blood oxygen saturation and high body temperature.

Doctors advised the pilots to stay overnight in the hospital, but they preferred to stay in their hotel and returned to London the next day as passengers on a different aircraft.

Oil leaks can cause fumes in the cockpit

The most probable cause of the fumes is a broken seal or maintenance issue oil leak. Oil for aircraft engines contains an additive called tricresyl phosphate, or TCP that helps reduce wear on the engines.

TCP is a toxin that, when released into the cockpit or cabin, can smell like old socks, cause nausea and even incapacitate anyone breathing it in.

Engine oil leaks cause fumes in the cockpit. Photo: BA

While fumes in the cockpit are rare, they do happen from time to time and could prove fatal if not noticed quickly. Just imagine what would have happened to flight BA-633 if the captain had also passed out.

Do aircraft not have something similar to a smoke detector in the cockpit that can sound an alarm once TCP fumes are detected?

If you have any information regarding TCP fumes we would love to read about it in the comments section.


Leave a Reply

8 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
7 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted
A. Mangi
Dave W

This seems to be becoming a regular occurrence with BA’s A320 series (A319/A320/A321) fleets. What’s disturbing in this case is the aircraft isn’t one of their older aircraft or a well-used one operated on lease, it was delivered new to BA in 2011. In aviation terms that’s a pretty new aircraft.


The poisonous effects of TCP or TOCP have been well documented since 1898 and hundreds of people have died or been permanently incapacitated.
1) why has this chemical still not been replaced in turbine lubrication by a safer compound?
2) why are fume dectectors not fitted in cockpits?
3) hopefully the crew will be monitored and not allowed to fly for a long period because, although the effects may regress over time in mild cases, many affected by this chemical still showed severe effects many years after exposure.


I was on an Airbus A320neo 2 months ago flying from Denver to Austin and about 10 minutes before landing a nasty smell filled the plane. One of the flight attendants said she likes the smell, it smells to her like wet dog. Then she mentioned the pilot and first might need to drop oxygen masks. The other flight attendant said something to the lines of “that smell is going to give us all cancer one of these days…”

It’s horrendous and the only time I’ve ever smelled it before is on the Airbus


i have smelled the old socks so many times in A320 cockpit. the reason was not oil leak, the reason is actually very simple: the smell comes from/after engine wash conducted by the maintenance. it usually happens when climbing up through 10.000 ft, or in descent when passing through around the same altitude. so the engine wash contains the substance producing such smell, and yes, i’ve seen colleagues pilots becoming sick if the smell is as intense as it can sometimes be. as i used to fly in Wizz Air and all their aircraft were brand new or only a… Read more »


A320 does not have any smoke detector anywhere. there are only heat detectors, but since the smoke accompanies the heat, it may seem as if the detectors are triggered by smoke. the operating principle is however different. there is no such detector in the cockpit, and that makes sense. there is one such detector in the compartment just under the flight deck, the avionics bay, where most of the computers are. there is another detector in cargo compartment, in every toilet and in every engine. but since the whole pressurized tube (including avionics bay and cargo compartments) is one area… Read more »

Leonard Lawrence

To: Mark Finlay, Dear Mark you may find the information below informative Best Wishes Leonard Lawrence ex BAe 146 and Boeing 757/767 Pilot From: Subject: 1983 Date: Fri, 18 Sep 2015 To: Leonard Lawrence Pilot During the period 1970-80, there were reported in United States Air Force 89 incidents of smoke/fumes in the cockpit during flight. The origin of the fumes in most cases was organic petroleum derivatives, which caused a multitude of symptoms including Central Nervous System dysfunction and mucous membrane irritation. Flight surgeons should be well-read in aerospace toxicology because of the threat to flying safety posed by… Read more »


TUI proves again passengers and crew first. Super TUI.