Air New Zealand plane passengers "fumigated alive"

Passengers on an Air New Zealand flight from Fiji found themselves being fumigated yesterday, after the crew discovered the aircraft's biosecurity clearance had expired:
A bio-security certificate prevents an airline from having to fumigate an aircraft every time it returns here. The spraying left the man with a sore throat and caused a baby to gag and vomit.

The construction engineer said the MAF officers took about five minutes to fumigate the plane before leaving the passengers to sit in "a thick fog" as they sealed the door shut behind them.

Link, and here's a related story about an asthmatic passenger who thought she was going to die. (thanks, David Carroll)


  1. This is fairly standard. I can’t believe this made front page.

    Many of my flights around asia especially on budget cariers, have been fumigated.

    It’s not actually that bad as it is made out in this article. However I expect that none of the people on board had experienced it before, and it is the first time I have heard of Air NZ doing it ( we are paranoid about bio-security here… re delicate eco-systems) probably because we usually stick to protocol.

    Basically what happens is flight attendants / ground staff, each take a small canister of spray and walk backwards down the isle spraying the (clear) spray up into the air circulation system.

    Yes you inhale some of the crap, but it’s really not that bad after having past through the air filters and ac system. It is definitely nothing like a “thick smog”. I am assuming that who-ever wrote this article is playing to the clean/green fear imagination inside kiwi’s. As I kiwi who has traveled I am aware of how much we are the hypochondriacs of the world when it comes to bugs and sprays.

  2. *chuckles* More April foolery, or is this a serious post. It sounds completely outlandish. If they want to fumigate the plane, why wouldn’t they disembark the passengers first?

    I know that I would absolutely not allow this, as there’s no way in hell I’d willingly sit there and inhale secondhand insecticide, even if it meant pushing past flight attendants to exit the plane. No jury would convict; that’s self-defense!

  3. I am aware of how much we are the hypochondriacs of the world when it comes to bugs and sprays.

    And I had a patient who had a penectomy because of pesticide exposure. I’m fairly certain that his penile necrosis wasn’t psychosomatic.

  4. honestly, this is a big deal why? I can’t remember how many flights I’ve been on in the Caribbean or in Africa where they sprayed the cabin before we got off the plane. Big deal, hold a napkin over your mouth and nose or something. People are so fricking sensitive these days.

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  6. They were doing this spritzing and spraying 10 years ago when I was bopping back and forth to NZ.

    hell, we even had to bug-bomb our tents while kayaking in the fjords. Serial bug-bombing!
    bug bomb the big screen tent / kitchen, then run in your wet suits and set up your tent, bug bomb it, then run back to the big screen tent / lock yourself in, take off your wet suit / anti bug garmets, wait for the sleeping tent to vent…

  7. Getting fumigated upon arrival was one of the highlights of my travels between Chicago and Mexico City in the 70s. I don’t remember which end of the trip it was (or maybe both ends) but I do still recall the indignation I felt at being treated as if there was something dangerous about me or my stuff. And also wondering why the attendant who was doing the spraying was wearing a surgical mask, while we were left to breathe whatever that was.

    Even then, as a pre-teen, I was skeptical that it was anything more than a performance, since whatever was in that little can couldn’t possibly be strong enough to reach inside my shoes or clothes or bags.

    Then again, in the late 60s I thought it was fun to run after the mosquito control trucks that patrolled our streets in summers, and to play in their fog.

    Those were such different times. A group of kids under eight, running for blocks in the street, at night, hidden in a cloud of unknown chemicals (mineral oil mist? DDT?) was just a part of growing up in Indiana…

  8. This has been standard procedure (per Aenertia’s post) for a very long time — ANZ was doing that in the early 1980’s, and the fumigant smelled of pyrethrins (food approved — pretty harmless).

  9. I second Takuan’s question. What exactly is in the spray? I’d like to be informed before I was subjected to it.

  10. Yeah um, I’ve been “fumigated” upon arrival to New Zealand as well (in the 90s I think). It’s exactly like AENERTIA said. I don’t know what they spray, but if I had to guess I’d say something like Lysol.
    As for why they didn’t let the passengers off the plane first, that would pretty much defeat the whole concept of quarantine and keeping bugs out of the borders, wouldn’t it now?
    Back when they used to always do it (I guess now they don’t do it with the passengers on, usually), they’d inform the passengers first. Mr. Oh-My-Throat-Hurts would have had warning enough to cover his mouth and nose with a blanket. As for the baby I think it’s silly the attendants didn’t instruct the parent to get under a blanket with the kid. If they didn’t notify anyone this time I guess thats what they call a lapse in procedure. Shit happens.

  11. They are a very diluted pyrethrin + water vapor solution. Pyrethrins are very toxic to insects and fish, but completely harmless against mammals/reptiles/birds and any organism with a lung based circulatory systems.

    The concentration used in the fumigations is less than 0.5%.

    You are more in danger of suffering more damage as you walk the tarmac between plane and terminal from carbon emissions than you are from this stuff.

  12. pyrethrin I can live with.

    can I change my handle to: Computer God Threshold Brainwash Radio Parroting Puppet Gangster Slave?

  13. completely harmless

    Um. “Carcinogenic action in nasal mucosal cells for inhalation exposure is suspected due to observed genotoxicity in human tissue samples.” Nasal mucosa. Breathing. Fumigation.

  14. exposure. I wouldn’t do it every day.

    next question for fact checking: what organisms are being fumigated? Target(s)?

  15. I was on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Sydney in 2000 (like NZ’s, Australian quarantine is some of the strictest in the world) which was fumigated. It wasn’t a “thick smog”, it was a couple of cans of spray and nobody got ill. Don’t know exactly what happened with the Air NZ flight, but judging from the other comments, it seems fairly routine.

  16. takuan: Mostly insects. Mites fleas, parasites, moths are the main targets. Basically invasive insect species.

  17. then the story hangs together.

    I suppose some may be more reactive than others to pyrethin, but I also wonder how many would have become ill if told the spray was water for humidity

  18. Yup, people are blissfully unaware that most fruits they eat probably have a coat or two of the shit. Also when you buy clothes/electronics they also will have been exposed. Clothes especially are treated to higher levels of pyrethrins than most other products (for obvious reasons). I doubt the people getting excited would have the same reaction when they walk into farmers (NZ equiv of sears/gap)

  19. Aerosolized chemicals that one breathes onto respiratory mucosa may be vastly more toxic than those with which one has simple skin contact. Just because clothing or electronics are coated with pyrethrins is no reason to assume that they’re safe for inhalation.

  20. I flew from San Francisco to Sydney about six weeks ago and was fumigated on the plane upon arrival. When we left SF our certificate was good for another two days, but since it was the next day when we arrived in Sydney, they considered it expired. Two flight attendants sprayed the insecticide (in a curiously sychronized movement up the aisle) and then they handed out moist towelettes to put over our mouth and nose while they sealed us in the plane for five minutes.

    It was a little unnerving, but I can see why they do it with people on board: whatever they’re spraying for could easily have taken up residence on somebody’s person.

    It’s the sort of thing that only someone who is looking for something to complain about would complain about.

  21. they should provide masks with five minute air bottles for the paranoid and sensitive. Or clearly warn them when they sell them the ticket.

  22. It’s the sort of thing that only someone who is looking for something to complain about would complain about.

    Like surveillance, illegal search and seizure, suspension of habeas corpus and secret prisons? How many times do you have to huff pesticides before you start regarding forced fumigation as normal? All the markers that I’ve sniffed haven’t reduced me to that level of complacency yet.

  23. informed consent is the key. And no defacto extortion/coercion like TSA: “YER GONNA DO IT OUR WAY! GRUNT SNORK”

  24. You give informed consent when you purchase your international flight tickets. Read the fine print.

  25. often wondered how that would play out in court.
    Depending on the jurisdiction, I think the airline might be handed an ass-kicking. The nice thing about international passengers is that they are usually out of their base of strength when you give them a royal screwing. Either a foreign country or in international airspace or some neutral zone. I don’t think airlines pull near as much shit in totally domestic situations.

  26. I’m another passenger who was “fumigated” by ANZ. The flight attendants instructed people to cover their faces if they so chose to, were apologetic, and offered printed literature on the safety of the material they were spraying. At least one passenger expressed concern and was then spoken to with respect by the crew – they also didn’t just repeat back rote information, they discussed the safety issues openly and with clear understanding.

    Additionally, when I purchased my ticket there was a statement warning that passengers might be subject to a spray. It wasn’t a surprise.

    I’m a little wary of the two accounts told here: the first had a baby vomiting (wait – babies vomit?) and the second had a woman who has life-threatening asthma but does not carry medical release forms with her (it’s a he-said she-said over the medical bracelet, which doesn’t stand in for medical release forms anyway, it’s simply a heads-up to emergency personnel).

  27. As others have said above, that’s not much of a news story – this used to happen on every flight coming in to Australia.

    It’s pretty perfunctory and I remember as a kid wondering if it actually worked reliably or if – well, that was long before the phrase “security theatre” was coined.

  28. I’m a Kiwi living in Texas. I’ve flown in and out of NZ a number of times, and never been sprayed. I know several people who have though, and none of them have been bothered by it.

    NZ is a “pure” ecological system, far enough from the rest of the world that it doesn’t have many of the environment destroying bugs and critters that the rest of the world does. The spraying is to protect that ecology, because it would potentially ruin NZ’s economy if something gets in.

  29. ZOMG, I just have been fumigated on the flight from Bombay. I’m gonna dieeee… (quick, someone call lawyers!).

  30. so many times, so many lawyers have been enriched by situations that would never have gone to trial if a simple apology had been offered at the time of the inadvertent offense. I find it strange how many lawyers have deplored this to me even though it is the professions willingness to take on frivolous litigation that created the climate in the first place.

    We need lawyers that say (when needed): “NO. I won’t do that. It’s unjust. It’s stupid. It helps no one.”

    And on that rant, we need doctors that say: “Stop coming to see me. You still eat too much, exercise too little, drink too much and haven’t quit smoking.”

    ah,I need some Sesame Street to cheer up;

  31. I’m all for keeping NZ’s unique ecosystem safe. Even more extreme measures would be fine by me. What I don’t like is perceived bad manners.

  32. would never have gone to trial if a simple apology had been offered

    There was a team of cardiologists where I worked. On of them was charming, had a great bedside manner and was completely incompetent as a physician. The other one was blunt, gruff and absolutely brilliant. Guess which one never got sued and which one got sued regularly.

  33. Like surveillance, illegal search and seizure, suspension of habeas corpus and secret prisons?

    Yes, like those things. Bug spray is exactly like those things. *rolls eyes*

    Fumigation isn’t “security theatre”. It’s a measure toward protecting a fragile ecosystem. I think the vehemence of the complaints is just sublimated anger at being subjected to the TSA’s increasingly absurd passenger screening procedures, which have made people hyper-aware of being put out. People naturally seize on a perceived appropriate opportunity to vent when they feel they can’t complain about the real issue.

    How many times do you have to huff pesticides before you start regarding forced fumigation as normal?


  34. I agree with the others who’ve said: ‘big deal’. It’s just a little bug spray, and quite routine.

    I grew up in the South Pacific, and the mosquito population was kept in check with van-dispersed DDT. Much preferable to breath a wisp of that once a year than to get malaria.

  35. “pyrethrin”…mmmm..Didn’t Burroughs use this in his exterminatin’ days..mebbe thay were White supremacists /racists ?…just askin’

  36. #41: Yup, that’s the bug powder alright.

    “Personally… I prefer a pyrethrum job to a fluoride. With the pyrethrum… you kill the roaches right there in front of God and the client… whereas this starch and fluoride – leave it around, the roaches eat it… come back a few days later, they’re running around fat as hogs.”

    “It’s a very literary high.”

    “What do you mean, it’s a literary high?”

    “It’s a Kafka high. You feel like a bug. Try some.”

  37. I’ve been on a lot of flights where they’ve done this. It’s really not such a big deal. Let’s all get over the paranoid nonsense please.

  38. Yes, we had our plane fumigated before we were allowed to leave the Air New Zealand when we arrived in Auckland in 1994.

  39. I’m glad to see that so many people remember this as common. I moved from Alaska to Brisbane Queensland in the early 80s.

    I have memories of service crew walking the aisles of the jets with aerosol cans misting while we sat in our seats after landing from the international flights we took.

    I also have memories of going to places like Hawaii and Fuji and Tahiti because the planes couldn’t fly all the way across the ocean and we had to stop somewhere. My parents needed somewhere to relax on the way to schlep us kids to visit relatives in the US. The bad result of planes that can fly around the world is that some places become farther away.

  40. I was fumigated on British Airways on the way back from Mumbai a month and a half ago. I’m not sure why this was the case, since I’ve been to Asia a few times without this ever happening. This is not a strictly NZ thing, and frankly, not news.

    Yes, you consent to it in the tickets. We actually first heard about it when we got our immunizations at the travel clinic; it was in the paperwork. No, a single exposure probably won’t give you cancer, but the literature did warn about anaphylactic shock; given the state of peoples’ immune systems these days, it’s something to take seriously.

    In any case, I don’t think this is doing anything to protect ‘fragile ecosystems,’ since walking down the aisle spraying the stuff in the air doesn’t, as Darsal (@10) implies, get into your shoes or bags or whatever where insects would be most likely to be.

    So, while it may not be detrimental to the majority, it’s not effective… so why do it? It seems like a pretty half-assed solution.

  41. I’ve been fumigated in the cabin before. Actually, the chmicals used smelled slightly sweet. It’s probably not a great exposure, but is a relatively small one for the occassional traveler. Agricultural workers, however, they have a totally different set of exposures.

  42. Flights from Johannesburg to London and elsewhere have regularly been fumigated in the last 20 odd years (I cannot vouch on an annual basis, but it’s something I’ve experienced many times).

    What usually happens is an announcement is made that due to some-or-the-other health regulation, fumigation is required, please cover your mouth/ nose/ eyes, if you think there will be a problem, please contact the crew. Then crew members walk briskly with some spray through the cabin, it smells weird and sweet for a while and the usual announcements commence. I haven’t thought about implications for people with breathing sensitivities, but the way it’s written sensationalizes something that’s essentially a non-story, almost like saying “did you know, on a daily basis, people drive *cars* to work!”

  43. Legally, terms on a ticket are never valid. You cannot “consent to it on the ticket”. I’m not a lawyer, but I did take a class on law, and this was one of the first things we learnt.

    The reason for this is simple. Buying a flight ticket is covered by contract law. The contract is completed when you purchased the ticket. The ticket is only given to you *AFTER* the contract is made. So whatever additional terms printed the ticket, you could not have known of them, or agreed to them, *BEFORE* you made the contract. So they are not part of the contract.

    It’s not like you are expected to read all the terms on the back of the ticket, and only then decided, … hmmm I don’t like this, this, and this … go back to the counter 10 minutes later and ask … can I have my money back?

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