Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

This wasn't your usual mid-flight scene.

There were the passengers, sensing a nasty odor wafting about the plane.

And there were the cabin crew suddenly looking like evil beings from a very early episode of Doctor Who.

Or experts drafted in to deal with dangerous matter strewn about a public place.

There must have been something wrong.

What was that smell? Was it harmful? Toxic? Dangerous to the plane's safety?

Welcome to a British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Nice on August 26.

As the Sun reports, passengers say they were told the cabin crew were wearing the strange smoke hoods as a "precaution."

It seems that the passengers themselves weren't offered any sort of precautions at all.

Could it be that the cabin crew were happy to protect themselves, while leaving a plane full of passengers to breathe in, well, who knows what?

I asked British Airways what on earth had gone on here. A spokeswoman told me: 

The safety of our customers and crew is always our highest priority.​​​  Our flight landed normally and customers left the aircraft as usual.  As is always the case, our engineers made a full inspection of the aircraft before it was returned to service. We would not operate an aircraft if we believed it posed a health or safety risk to our customers or crew.

Believed? Well, no.

Engineers, though, don't seem able to find the causes of these things.

Meanwhile, please consider the passengers.

Seeing your cabin crew wearing hoods and having oxygen masks attached might cause one or two in the seated throng to wonder about a slight imbalance. 

Airlines describe such happenings as fume events.

Which makes them sound akin to a hookah party.

It's unclear exactly what fumes might be wandering about the cabin and what effect they might have.

Families of pilots who have died while relatively young believe that fumes contributed to their deaths.

In the U.S., a 2015 Federal Aviation Administration report offered a disturbing conclusion

Quantification of the potential health risks associated with exposure to bleed-air contaminants in cabin air is not possible without broad identification and measurement of the representa​tive hazardous constituents of bleed air during contaminated air events.

The report called for funding to support research activities.

Earlier this year, the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines pilots, said that there had been around 20,000 toxic fume events in the last 10 years. 

Indeed, British Airways enjoyed four just on August 26.

The APA, though, commended the FAA for recommending that airlines introduce enhanced procedures to mitigate fume events.

In truth, however, no one seems to know all the potential hazards involved.

So passengers sit there hoping for the best, while cabin crew at least enjoy some protection.

It doesn't seem entirely right, does it?

Published on: Sep 4, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.