Why flight cabin temperature is always too hot or too cold

Travel News 23 Sep 2015

When Eric Crusius boarded his recent American Airlines flight from Washington to Dallas, the air conditioning was powered down and the cabin started to heat up quickly, just as you might expect an aluminum tube to do under the heat of the late summer sun.

"It was pretty steamy," he recalls.

But that was nothing compared with what happened when he landed. After the plane touched down, its air conditioning switched off again, and this time, the temperature outside was in the triple digits. Passengers waiting to exit the aircraft began to glisten with sweat.

Eventually, relief from the overheated plane came when they reached Dallas-Fort Worth's cooler terminal, says Crusius, an attorney based in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

Travel can be many things, but too often it is either too hot or too cold. And not just on an aircraft. Buses, trains and other types of mass transit often get the interior temperature wrong, either overcooling or overheating the cabin. Making matters worse, these modes of transportation generally don't have comfort standards set by the government or operators.

Cabin comfort, and the challenges of regulating it, became an issue in Dallas this northern summer when an American Airlines flight attendant reportedly fainted in an overheated plane. American's maximum "safe" temperature is 90 degrees fahrenheit (32.2 celsius), and the flight attendants' union wants to lower that number for the sake of its members and passengers.

Generally, the older the aircraft, the more likely you'll freeze - or bake - according to Paul Eschenfelder, a retired captain for Delta Air Lines. For example, on an Airbus A330 or a Boeing 777 or 787, you can regulate the temperature almost to the seat. On older aircraft, the system is imprecise.


This article was originally published on Traveller and can be read in full here