American Airlines Airbus A330 Diverts Following “Dirty Old Socks” Smell

An American Airlines A330 heading for London from Philadelphia has been diverted to Boston following a fume incident on board. The aircraft, performing flight AA-728 on 28th July, was just over an hour into its trip when a ‘dirty old socks’ smell was noted by passengers and crew. The pilots requested an emergency landing in Boston, and the plane touched down with all 154 passengers safe and well, although 10 crew members were taken to hospital.

AA A330
An American Airlines A330 had to divert due to a smell on board. Photo: Wikimedia

What happened?

The American Airlines Airbus A330-300, registered N272AY, was performing flight AA-728 from Philadelphia to London Heathrow. It pushed back on July 28th at 22:17, just 12 minutes later than scheduled, and was scheduled to arrive in London at 10:20 the next day.

However, just over an hour into the flight, as the aircraft began to head out over the Atlantic, an odor was noticed in the cabin. The smell, which one of the pilots described as a ‘dirty sock smell’ caused some of the flight crew to become ill.

The Philly Voice reports the radio transmission from the pilots as saying,

“We have an issue with an odor on the airplane. Now, everything’s normal. Everything’s A-OK. We call it a ‘dirty sock smell.’ With that being said, we need to turn this airplane around.”

AA flight 728
The flight path of AA flight 728. Image: Flight Radar 24

The aircraft diverted to Boston, requesting an emergency landing and touching down safely at 23:48. All 154 passengers were safe and well, but the Aviation Herald reports that nine crew were taken to hospital for treatment. However, multiple reports on social media suggest that 10 people were transported to hospital, so perhaps one of the three pilots became ill after landing?

‘A funny smell’

WBZ-TV interviewed some of the passengers who had deplaned the flight. When they asked about the smell, one commented,

“I kept smelling a funny smell, and I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I thought someone had an upset stomach, so I ignored it,”

Another passenger thought it was more like a burning smell, saying,

“It smelled kind of more like a sort of burning smell I would have thought. But more like a strange burning smell,”

All 154 of the passengers were provided with overnight accommodation in Boston as the plane could not continue its journey. Another aircraft picked up the passengers the following day to be transported onwards to London.

N272AY hasn’t flown since. Image: Flight Radar 24

The aircraft was noted by Flight Radar to undertake a repositioning flight back to Philadelphia yesterday, but all other flights operated by the aircraft have been canceled. The next scheduled service is AA736 which should see the aircraft flying from Philadelphia to London again, and is still scheduled at the time of writing.

Smelly Airbus planes

The smelly sock phenomenon on Airbus aircraft is not an unusual thing. A Spirit Airlines passenger was hospitalized just over a week ago following a fume incident, and at the end of last month, a British Airways crew were sent to hospital after fumes were detected on an A320 heading to Tenerife. A United Airlines flight was diverted in March due to noxious fumes onboard too.

BA A320neo
A BA A320 suffered a similar problem. Photo: British Airways

A commenter on the AvHerald website has suggested that the ‘dirty socks’ smell is known to be emitted by infiltrated engine oil fumes getting into the cabin. They say that this is caused by worn out corroded seals. The reason they make people sick is that they contain sulfur additives which assist in the lubrication abilities, but which are toxic to humans and corrosive to the seals.

Have you ever smelt dirty socks on board a commercial flight? Let us know in the comments.