How hot is too hot on an airliner? The law is silent on the subject
DENVER — Every day, tens of thousands of U.S. airline passengers settle into their seats, lower the window shades and reach up to twist the air vents without the benefit of something that might do even more to keep them cool: a rule setting temperature limits inside thecabin.
Airlines have their own guidelines — some allowing the mercury to hit 90 degrees — and federal regulations cover air flow and, more generally, passenger safety and comfort.
But nowhere do authorities say how hot is too hot when a plane is sitting on the ground — a fact illustrated this summer when a mother holding her beetred infant had to plead to be let off a broiling regional jet stuck on the tarmac at Airport.
Emily France said she and her 4-month-old son, Owen, sweltered aboard the 50-seat “oven with wings” for more than an hour June 22 before it returned to the gate and passengers were allowed off briefly.
When they reboarded the United Airlines flight to El Paso, the cabin felt even warmer, France said. With the flight delayed again, she stripped off Owen’s clothing and applied ice bags brought by flight attendants, but his condition deteriorated.
“I heard a cry from my son that I have never heard before, and his skin looked a color that I had never seen before, and I knew he was in trouble,” she said. “Then he just stopped crying. And he went limpinm yarms.”
“I said, ‘Get an ambulance and get me off the plane ,’” she recalled.
She and the boy were takenaway by ambulance. Doctors determined the baby suffered no lasting effects.
France said she hopes federal regulators take note, and she has hired a lawyer who specializes in airline safety law. He is demanding an explanation.
“There is no reason why heat bad enough to cause people to pass out is happening in cabins,” said the attorney, David Ra po port.
Authorities have heard complaints for years about stifling heat aboard airliners, though the Federal Aviation Administration does not keep track of how many.
To save fuel, pilots sometimes turn off the air conditioning when the plane is at the gate or taxiing, though some airports have ground AC units at the gates that pump cool air into the aircraft while it waits to push back. Sometimes the on board air conditioning mal functions or can’ t keep up.
During the summer of 2013, several passengers on a delayed Allegiant Air flight fell ill as their plane sat on the tarmac in the blazing desert heat in Las Vegas. A month later, more than 150 Allegiant passengers were forced to sweat it out for 2½ hours in Phoenix after a maintenance problem knocked out air conditioning on the plane.
Allegiant decided in September to spend more than $1milliononsix60-toncooling units for use at the Las Vegas airport, said Michael Bowers, director of base operations.
The FAA declined to comment on the need for specific rules on cabin temperature when a plane is on the ground. But the agency noted in a statement that it specifies how many pounds of fresh air planes must pump through the cabin per minute and per passenger.
And it said it expects airlines to “take appropriate action if a cabin temperature condition occurs on the ground that could potentiallyaffect passenger safety .”
The 50,000-member Association of Flight Attendants has been lobbying Congress for years to set a maximum cabin temperature of 80 degrees.
“Bottom line, the airlines and regulators do not consider temperature to be a safety issue,” union spokeswoman Taylor Garland said. “Therefore, it’s low on the list of priorities when it comes to on-time departures.”
Emily France holds her 4-month-old son Owen last month in Denver. France said her infant son overheated on a delayed United Airlines flight.