Air New Zealand Takes Fumigating Its Passengers Seriously

WHO: Air New Zealand
WHAT: A flight returning from Fiji was blanketed with a thick fog of fumigants for five minutes because its biosecurity clearance had expired a few hours earlier. The fumigant caused a baby to gag and vomit, and left one man with a sore throat.
WHERE: Air NZ passengers fumigated [New Zealand Herald] (Thanks to Nicholas!)
THE QUOTE: “It’s not like we don’t take this seriously, which is why we had the [Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry] people come on board.”

BONUS QUOTE: Spokeswoman Di Patton provided a refreshingly candid explanation before ruining everything with the driveling placation.

“But she said the airline did not consider it had made a mistake in terms of not having its biosecurity clearances before passengers boarded, saying “these kind of things happen”.

“In this particular instance it was by one day the biosecurity clearance had expired – a few hours, in fact. It’s not really a mistake. It’s just happened as a result of other things.”

“Taking it seriously” is a phrase companies use over and over again in public statements whenever they have bad PR. Our series of posts on occurrences of the phrase is our attempt to question how seriously companies are really taking these matters if every time they trot out this phrase by rote.

(Photo: planegeezer)


Edit Your Comment

  1. TruPhan says:

    “The fumigant caused a baby to gag and vomit”

    There’d be a good cynical joke somewhere in that quote if the reality of the situation wasn’t so stomach wrenching.

  2. firefoxx66 says:

    Left one man with a ‘soar’ throat, eh? Well, I guess that’s what happens when you irritate your throat on a plane…

  3. tedyc03 says:

    Yes yes, a “sore” throat, even.

    I hear a lawsuit…

  4. Trai_Dep says:

    Err, I hope there weren’t any Nazi concentration camp survivors on that flight.

  5. Buran says:

    Um… yeah… Lawsuits in five minutes. You just don’t spray people with toxic chemicals without their consent.

    I will never fly this airline. I do want to visit Australia due to having a friend there, but now I won’t fly that airline if I go to New Zealand also.

  6. yikz says:

    Fumigated with what? I would want EXACT details of what they were spraying. I’d also want to know exactly what the chemical effects are to a human being.

    If this happened to me, I’d have gotten every passenger on the plane to complain of chest pains. After getting everyone to the hospital, I’d make sure that I had at least $10,000 in blood work done (along with every other passenger on the plane.) I’d also make sure that the dumba$$ airline paid for everything. I’d make definitely sure that this was one of the most expensive mistakes ever, along with making sure there weren’t any poisonous toxins in my system. I don’t give a rat’s a$$ about the airline. I care about my health. I hear the word fumigation, and I have visions of Viet Nam veterans suffering from Agent Orange syndrome.

    There’s NO WAY I’m taking the word of some government flunky, or some airline employee that it’s “perfectly safe”. I would then retain the services of an attorney, and send the attorney with a court order to go down seize the fumigation equipment and have it tested.

    There are people at the airline (and in government) that need to lose their jobs over this.

  7. flugangst says:

    Many countries require all arriving international flights to be “fumigated,” which is not even close to as bad as it sounds. The flight attendants walk down the aisle spraying an aerosol can of something that smells sorta like Lysol. That’s it. It’s personally never affected me, nor did I notice any adverse reactions from other passengers.

    This sounds like a slightly more thorough operation, but I’m sure that they weren’t setting off dozens of toxic roach bombs in there or anything. (Calling it a biosecurity thing makes it sound like an anti-disease measure, not an anti-bug measure, but I could very well be wrong.)

    Air NZ is one of the better airlines out there and probably the best one based in that part of the world (I had a very pleasant – and not fumigated! – flight from San Fran -> Auckland last year).

  8. stenk says:


    Regardless of Airline you will be fumigated before you leave the plane, it is what we call the LAW down here in these parts.

  9. Leah says:

    I want to know what the chemicals are. I don’t think the fumigating is the problem; the problem was not having a safe air supply for the passengers. But not fumigating actually causes really huge problems. In addition to fumigating planes, you have to get your bags and stuff fumigated if there’s any risk. If you bring camping stuff into New Zealand, they spray it all down. It’s part of keeping the country safe from invasive species, and it’s actually really_really important.

  10. Redwraithvienna says:

    this would have happend (and probably does happen) with any airline/airplane which forgets to renew the biosecurity clearance.

    The airline fucked up … ok … but airlines fuck up so many times. I guess if i switched airline every time something went wrong on any one of their flights i could only drive around and swim to anywhere else.

  11. Logic would dictate that if this fumigation while passengers were on board was unavoidable, they would have given them some sort of warning to cover their mouths and noses… or perhaps they could have lets the oxygen masks down?

  12. Redwraithvienna says:
  13. Hoss says:

    This isn’t a Chinatown bus line — it’s an international airline. Sounds like someone skipped over an important checklist item.

    @flugangst: You’re sounding knowledgable, but what about where the article is saying there was a sauna-like thick fog from the stray? That can’t be simple room stray type application

  14. viqas says:

    usually there is a warning when they spray down the planes, and its not that bad to the point where you cant breathe.

    i guess these people are newbs to it

  15. Maezels says:

    This sort of fumigation is SOP on many international flights. I’ve had it done in Fiji, Dakar, and India. Probably happens on 100’s of flights every day. Must really be a slow news day today!

    Anyway, for those who are curious how it works, watch this YouTube clip:

  16. Chongo says:

    @Maezels: Thanks for the video.

    I would be pretty mad about this regardless, just based on the fact that unknown chemicals are being inhaled.

    However, how can a little can of that crap even do anything against what its meant for? that looks more like some kind of BS way to placate inspectors.

  17. formergr says:

    I had this done when I flew out of Zimbabwe last year, on British Airways. Since I had never experienced it before and there was no explanation, it was a little freaky, but I was somewhat reassured since it was the BA flight attendants doing it, versus if it had been Zimbabwean authorities, which would have been slightly more concerning given the political climate there!

  18. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    New Zealand is a small agricultural country. This is standard operating procedure and, other than the 3rd hand growing out of my shoulder, has never caused any problems.

  19. losiek says:

    @flugangst: This is exactly right. I was flying out of Mumbai and attendants walekd down the isles with some aerosol to get out the bugs and other stuff before flight to EU could even being. Yes, it leaves a haze for couple of minutes but it’s not like the fumigation you do with bombs in your hose.

    In any case Air New Zealand is my favorite airline. Their service rocks, their planes are on time, and the Kiwis are absolutely lovely people.

    I certainly hope this story is just overblown crap.

  20. cde says:

    Just guilt trip the passengers. Let them know exactly how bad letting a biological oddity into the ecosystem would be.

  21. Thorny says:

    Depends on whether the guy with the sore throat was an American or not. Likely that a New Zealander wouldn’t sue over a sore throat.

  22. Buran says:

    @Redwraithvienna: I’ve flown internationally before and never been treated like a mosquito. Ever. If an airline does this to me it better have told me ahead of time that it would happen, or I *will* go after them. I don’t care what their excuse is. It’s obviously possible to go places without getting sprayed.

  23. Me - now with more humidity says:

    You spray toxins on my child without giving me advance notice and a chance to opt out and I’m gonna own the fucking airline before it’s over.

  24. Maezels says:

    However, there ARE health hazards when flying internationally…

    My favorite is being middle-seated next to a family from some far off, exotic land where bathing is not a daily, nor even weekly, ritual. After suppressing the urge to engage in inter cultural banter about the sights and smells of said land, you notice the patriarch returning from the loo to his pre-assigned seat on your immediate right, and begin to consider the fact that toilet paper is largely an artifice of western society. At that moment you hold off squirming in your 18″ seat against those phantom itches, and consider how you’ll handle the next 12 hours with your right hand entwined with his left on that tiny armrest you share. You pray that the disinfectant spray will come soon……

  25. Topcat says:

    @yikz: Geez, it’s all about you isn’t it? To plan on faking an illness and presenting yourself at a hospital is horrible enough, but encouraging a plane load of people to descend upon a hospital epidemic-style is probably one of the worst things I’ve ever heard. Talk about a waste of time and resources, and a major risk to the well-being of the actual patients of the hospital. You know, the ones who might have serious ailments.

    You are a terrible human being.

  26. nequam says:

    Are we too quick to discount the possibility that they merely were spraying Right Guard in order to quell an epidemic of BO ?

  27. Crazytree says:

    @Buran: so a gov’t agency with the legal authority to fumigate aircraft with an aerosol cleared for use around humans is somehow a basis for a lawsuit?

    what, you’re an expert on international aviation law and new zealand agricultural/customs law now too?

    give it a break.

  28. Lyrai says:

    If you choose to not get fumigated, you don’t get to fly. Period.

    Hope you have a good babysitter.

  29. bigmac12 says:

    So, do they turn you inside out and fumigate that side also?

  30. b-real says:


    WORD! It’s like some people haven’t flown internationally before… The spray is SOP for flights from/to certain countries. You guys need to get out more.

  31. strathmeyer says:

    @b-real: “WORD! It’s like some people haven’t flown internationally before… The spray is SOP for flights from/to certain countries. You guys need to get out more.”

    Then why is everyone in the article acting like this shouldn’t have happened? You do think it would be helpful to explain that to us, don’t you? You guys did read the article, right?

  32. Jenna says:

    @strathmeyer: I think the anonymous source was exaggerating. I’ve flown Air NZ countless times (I lived in New Zealand until I was 18 and still hold kiwi citizenship) and been sprayed on more than one occasion. It’s just like in the video someone posted above.

    In any case, you can’t sue anyone in New Zealand – we have no civil legal system. We do however have free healthcare and public accident insurance – if actual injuries resulted from this incident, the victims would be entitled to either or both of the above.

  33. Morticia says:

    I’m a kiwi and for years the planes used to fumigated everytime we landed from overseas.

    I never had, and still don’t have a problem with it. There used to be the occasional rare person who would put a handkerchief over their mouth.

    I suspect a dose of the hystrionics going on with this passenger/s.

  34. FLConsumer says:

    I’ve not seen them do fumigations with aerosol cans, but I’ve been on numerous flights where they dumped it into the plane’s air supply and you could clearly smell the stuff. No warnings. NZ, AU, India, and many central & southern American countries do the same.

    It’s debatable what’s worse, the aerosols & gases done while the passengers are onboard or the heavy persistant pesticides sprayed all over the fabric surfaces of the plane when the passengers are not on board but persist for months at a time.

  35. aviationwiz says:

    This is perfectly normal, and they’ve done it on some of my SAA (South African Airways) flights that have gone via Dakar, Senegal, and perhaps via Accra, Ghana too, I forget. Personally, I just hold my breath when they walk through my part of the cabin with the spray, similar to what I do if I’m passing through an area with smokers in it.

    I’m with Maezels, must be a slow news day today.

  36. b-real says:

    I don’t know why, other than they haven’t flown to a country where it’s required. My vote goes to histrionics. People get offended based on ignorance. BTW, the U.S. does this too, you know. Last time I flew to and from Jamaica on AA, they sprayed. Also, as someone mentioned, South African Airways to/from Joburg. Like I said, experience more int’l travel and you’ll see.

  37. JustAGuy2 says:


    “In any case, you can’t sue anyone in New Zealand – we have no civil legal system. We do however have free healthcare and public accident insurance – if actual injuries resulted from this incident, the victims would be entitled to either or both of the above.”

    I love this feature about NZ – no personal injury lawyers. When I went skydiving, the release was 1/2 a page long. In the US, they add up to a dozen pages.

  38. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    It’s like some people haven’t flown internationally before.
    @b-real: You’re being sarcastic right?
    You guys need to get out more.

    If it is normal to fumigate a plane with passengers on board then why didn’t they provide something for them to use so they wouldn’t be breathing this stuff in? If they know this sort of thing happens then why aren’t they prepared for it?

  39. JustAGuy2 says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation:

    It’s normal (not done frequently on Air NZ, but does happen, and standard procedure for a number of airlines), and it’s normal not to provide breathing apparatus as the stuff is not viewed as a health risk. By the same token, they don’t provide full body environmental suits to the passengers because of the risk of accidentally being exposed to spilled coffee.

  40. b-real says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation:
    Yeah I’m wrong, having only flown to about a hundred countries. Does it happen often? Probably not, but fumigation is policy for certain routes/airlines. Get a passport and leave that cocoon and you’ll see. It’s been around for ages and only now is it a point of contention.

  41. azgirl says:

    Yea- lysol is super toxic too. They call it a fumigant for a reason people. And safety is determined on the basis of a healthy white male. No tests are done on children for obvious reasons. If the kid is vomiting, they will be lucky if that is the extent of it. I bet on long term damages to lungs, and nervous system.

    And, the short term medical care for exposure to toxics is fresh air, showering etc. I bet they did not get that. I would sue. Alot. For as much as I could get. Fight back people- how long will you be a slave?

  42. modenastradale says:

    This stuff looks far from harmless.


    Offhand, I can’t think of any substances that are effective in killing microbes (and larger organisms!), yet are safe to be taken internally by humans. You might say that a single exposure to 2% vapor is not going to have serious long-term effects, but what if there is an immunocomprompised person on board?

    Bottom line, passenger should be made explicitly aware of this before they board.

  43. modenastradale says:

    Here’s some additional, detailed information on aircraft disinsection.

  44. modenastradale says:

    These bits was interesting:

    “[d-phenothrin:] Synthetic pyrethroid nerve poison (Ecobichon, 1990; Rao and Rao, 1995; UNEP, 1990-1). Causes liver damage in animal studies (WHO, 1990). Has reproductive and endocrine disrupting effects (Eil and Nisula, 1990; Brody, 1983). Exposure to certain d-phenothrin-containing sprays can cause symptoms including eye irritation, tearing and blurred vision, skin irritation, nasal and respiratory irritation, nausea, cramps and vomiting, fatigue, tremors, lack of coordination (McLaughlin Company, 1989), and temporary central nervous system effects, dizziness, headache, confusion, and stupor (Airosol Company, 1992).”


    “The National Academy of Sciences, in a 1993 report, stated that ‘the data strongly suggest that exposure to neurotoxic [e.g., nerve poisoning] compounds at levels believed to be safe for adults could result in permanent loss of brain function if it occurred during the prenatal or early childhood period of development’ (NAS, 1993).”

  45. clank-o-tron says:

    @JustAGuy2: Seriously? No civil legal system?

    I’m going to have to think about that a bit longer, as my brain can’t even comprehend it… but my initial reaction is to call it awesome.

  46. trujunglist says:

    What doesn’t cause a baby to gag and vomit?

  47. JustAGuy2 says:


    They have a gov’t compensation fund, so if you are injured by someone’s negligence, you get compensated, but only according to a formula.

  48. Morticia says:

    It is called Accident Compensation. It is not perfect but it allows for a little bit more personal responsibility and lot less people tying up court time over drycleaners losing their pants.

  49. redx says:

    This is why I refuse to go to certain parts of the world. You have people on this board defending the fumigation. It baffles my mind. Laws are not absolute. Just because its there doesn’t mean the law isnt stupid or ethically wrong. Without going to extreme situations (like some of you are doing), fumigating human beings with chemicals without consent is not right.

  50. JustAGuy2 says:


    I’m sure New Zealand is crushed to hear you won’t be gracing their country with your presence. I can hear the weeping from thousands of miles away. BTW, those “certain parts of the world” include the US and Europe, depending on where the flight is coming from.

  51. Morticia says:

    Lol redx!

    To those concerned about the spray, please don’t let this put you off coming over. I will bet you my last chocolate bar this will never happen again. The only likely problem you would get would be if you didn’t declare the apple you inadvertently put in your bag after the flight.


    Good value for your dollar, there is no tipping (well not unless you really really want to)no Best Buy, and a woman is in charge of the country. Brilliant.

  52. Morticia says:

    correction – shld read Justaguy

  53. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    Yeah I’m wrong, having only flown to about a hundred countries.

    @b-real: I didn’t say you were wrong, I asked if you were being sarcastic as it seems odd for someone to be honestly surprised that there are people who haven’t flown internationally.

    Get a passport and leave that cocoon and you’ll see.

    (I think an entire continent is too large to be considered a cocoon.)