How Hot is Too Hot? Should Airlines Refuse to Board Aircraft When Cabins Heat Up Over the Summer?

Planes can get pretty hot on the ground during the summer, especially when they’re not running the air conditioning with auxiliary power.

Passengers are often asked to close the shades upon landing, keeping out the sun keeps the cabin from heating up as much. On boarding all the windows are closed and most passengers leave them that way. Once the engines start running, and the plane gets up in the air, things cool down quickly.

American Airlines will board a plane if the temperature is less than 90 degrees, though as always this is at the discretion of the pilot. US Airways’ policy has been an 85 degree maximum, and that gives American’s flight attendants union an opening to complain about this years-old policy.

They say a flight attendant recently fainted during boarding of a hot plane. American says the flight attendant wasn’t feeling well prior to boarding. While uncomfortable 90 degrees is perfectly safe for most people.

Airlines do go to lengths to keep planes cool on the ground, although it’s striking to me how often aircraft do have challenges with their auxiliary power unit (or with gate power). Any discomfort is short-lived, and the search for overhead space notwithstanding it seems like a good practice to announce up front that a cabin is hot and anyone concerned can wait until the end of boarding to get onto the aicraft.

What I’ve never understood is cabin temperature once in the air, and here US airlines tend to be better than Asian and Middle Eastern airlines. Why in the world do these airlines keep cabin temperatures so darned hot inflight? Is it so they can claim a sauna as an amenity? I’d rather be cool for a 12 hour flight and hot briefly on the ground.

How hot is too hot? Do airlines need to do a better job keeping planes cool on the ground? Should they cancel a flight or delay it for hours if cabin temperatures get above 85, as American’s flight attendants would seem to suggest?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I had a freighter departure last month where the main cargo compartment temperature was recorded as 61C (142F) at pushback. Resulted in the fire detection system auto-shutting down some components. Not a fun day.

  2. Cultural norms probably play a part. What is “room temperature” in the Middle East, where daily outside temperatures top 90 degrees Fahrenheit? If local thermostats are set at, say, 25 degrees Celcius (77F) instead of 20-22 (68-72F) in the US, that explains the discomfort you’re feeling, which others on the plane may not.

  3. In Dubai and Doha during the summer, I have boarded planes from bus gates, meaning I have had to carry my rollerbag and laptop bag up the stairs in the sun and heat, when the actual temperature is often over 120, with heat indices frequently topping 140F. So I don’t feel very sorry for flight attendants who have to put of with 90 while just standing there.

  4. The plan by the flight attendant unions are not to cancel the flights. It’s to ensure the aircraft is at a reasonable temperature and if not to get it fixed. I work for a regional, imagine flying 5-6 flights in a day with a busted APU so temperatures are easily at 90 degrees. It’s not fun. A line has to be drawn. It’s not simply something for the flight attendants to complain about.

  5. Dunno about the “short-lived” part. Legacy US sure knows how to take their time to board a plane. In Philly in particular, I feel like it’s never much less than an hour from in the seat to in the air.

  6. Now, imagine these conditions during rush hour in ATL when are are number 30 in line for takeoff.

  7. “Cultural norms probably play a part. What is “room temperature” in the Middle East, where daily outside temperatures top 90 degrees Fahrenheit? If local thermostats are set at, say, 25 degrees Celcius (77F) instead of 20-22 (68-72F) in the US, that explains the discomfort you’re feeling, which others on the plane may not.”

    David, I’d say the opposite is true. Stores and other public spaces in the US feel “normal” to me during the summer (we set our AC thermostat to 76-78 F at home), while it’s always FREEZING cold in malls and stores in the UAE and Thailand, where outdoor temperatures are much higher than the US (I’ve spent the most time in the US in VA, PA, KS, TN, TX, and NH). For public spaces in countries where luxuries like AC are newer, I’m guessing they’re overcompensating at first. However, that doesn’t give much info IRT how private home thermostats are kept in said countries.

  8. @HansGolden
    The reason that those “malls and stores in the UAE and Thailand” are FREEZING is still a culture thing. Having freezing cold AC indicates luxury in those places. It is normally only those luxury malls/stores have good AC and cold temperature. The temperature of a mall is often a very good reverse indicator of the price level in that mall.

    For the rest good part of those counties, let’s say most people there never heard of thermostat.

    People in much of Asian do prefer warmer temperature settings. While some giant blogger (who paid miles to get in) is here complaining about Asian and Middle Eastern airlines having hot cabin. Much of their local customers (who paid cash to get in) really want that and hate US airlines having FREEZING cold cabin.

  9. I’m probably in the minority, but I’m American and I find US airlines to be uncomfortably cold. Much prefer Asian airlines in that regard, though SQ was pretty chilly actually.

  10. Culture is definitely part of it, but there are multiple facets to that:

    Weight of average Chinese person: 133.5 lbs
    Weight of average US person: 180.62 lbs (3rd highest average in the world, BTW)

    I think if a study were performed, an inverse relationship with strong correlation would be found between weight and preferred ambient temperature. That is, persons with more natural insulation would prefer a cooler temperature, and persons with less insulation would perfer a warmer temperature.

  11. The way I look at it is that I can always bundle up more if I feel too chilly, but there’s a limit to how much I can take off if I’m too hot.

  12. I didn’t even know this was a thing until my husbands flight was delayed twice because of American Airlines Boarding Temperature guidelines. Very frustrating.

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