British Airways is suffering from blocked plane drains and is using flight attendants as emergency plumbers, it has been revealed.

Fixing blocked sinks costs the airline about £500,000 a year.

Sometimes the problem is caused by passengers' toothpaste tube tops falling down the drain.

Other times, cleaners have poured away waste orange juice, milk and tea leaves in the galleys and toilets which then solidify in the pipes.

According to BA's weekly house journal British Airways News, cabin crew members have been enlisted to help combat the problem.

Engineers have also reminded crews and cleaners of what can and cannot be disposed off in airline sinks.

About 350 sink blockages were reported each month on the long-haul fleet alone. Sometimes the amount of dismantling necessary to reach the pipes is so extensive that an aircraft has to be taken out of service.

A leaflet has been published for staff explaining how they can help reduce blockages and save the airline time and money.

The airline, which employs about 4,000 people at Gatwick airport, has refused to say how many jobs will be lost in its £300 million cost-cutting drive, announced in February. Some unions believe up to 3,000 jobs could be axed over the next two years.

Monday March 22, 2004