How hot is too hot on an air­liner? The law is silent on the sub­ject

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BUSINESS - By Thomas Peipert

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.”

Maria de Los An­ge­les-Baida / Associated Press

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.

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