Note:The following story has been edited to reflect new information which became available after it was written. Be sure and read the “updates” below for a fuller picture. The Financial Times reports today a customer’s claim about encountering bed bugs on a recent British Airways flight (or flights). (Note: The Financial Times requires free registration and login.)
Zane Selkirk says on her website BA Bites! that on one British Airways flight from
London to Bangalore Los Angeles to London Heathrow at the end of January, she had “bugs crawling literally all over” her in seat 15K, bugs she later came to suspect were bed bugs. After a flight from Bangalore to London a week later, apparently having just sat in the same seat on a different plane, the woman says she found herself to be covered in a skin reaction she believed to be bed bug bites.
The web-savvy passenger (who works for Yahoo) started the website BA-bites.com on Tuesday to publicize her complaints, publicizing the website on Twitter and the Bedbugger Forums (here and here), and I assume many other locations on the internet.
The disgruntled passenger says in an Open Letter to BA that she isn’t seeking compensation. But she claims her complaints were not even received by BA staff at Heathrow. They did not want to look at her suspected bed bug bites.
The Financial Times reports today:
BA said it was ‘extremely rare’ for it to hear of bed bugs on any of the 250,000 flights it has every year.
‘Nevertheless, we are vigilant about the issue and continually monitor our aircraft,’ a spokeswoman said.
‘Whenever any report of bed bugs is received, we launch a thorough investigation and, if appropriate, remove the aircraft from service and use specialist teams to treat it.’
Although we have no way of confirming what happened on either plane, and no way of knowing if these were indeed bed bugs, It is interesting that bugs were detected on the first flight, but that the suspected bites appeared a week later after the second flight. If these were indeed bed bugs, According to the available literature, it seems fully possible that Ms. Selkirk was having a delayed reaction to bed bug bites which occurred a week earlier on the first leg of the journey. There’s no reason to assume the alleged bed bug bites actually took place during the second flight. Although bed bugs certainly could infest a plane seat and bite a customer, other pests may be mistaken for bed bugs, and we don’t really have access to enough information here. I would caution anyone against jumping to conclusions about what happened in this case.
Update (2/26/2011): The Telegraph reported yesterday that BA had treated one plane in response to this complaint:
A BA spokesman confirmed that the aircraft on the Los Angeles flight was taken out of service and treated before being allowed back into service.
In addition, the spokesman told the Telegraph that
“Whenever any report of bed bugs is received, we launch a thorough investigation and, if appropriate, remove the aircraft from service and use specialist teams to treat it.”
Presumably, BA felt the plane used for the Bangalore to London flight did not need to be taken out of service and treated. It isn’t clear from this article whether the second plane was also inspected.
Update (2/27/2011): An update on the story in the Daily Mail confirms that the second plane was also checked, but not treated, since “the airline had not discovered any evidence of infestation on the Bangalore to Heathrow flight.”
Note also the Daily Mail cites BA as saying,
Stung by her online protest, BA confirmed bugs had been found on the LA to Heathrow plane, which was then fumigated before being put back into service.
BA never specifically admits here to having detected bed bugs on this plane. Just “bugs.” However, I imagine that if the airline had instead found some other, more innocuous bug, they would take pains to specify the species.
Note also the Daily Mail’s error in referring to bed bugs as “mites,” (they’re true bugs, not mites) and the apparent obsession — shared by many British journalists — with bed bugs as a major problem in the US, particularly in New York City.
Note that bed bugs are also a massive problem in the UK.