Cabin crew are up in arms over high temperatures on planes
The northern hemisphere is suffering from historic heatwaves which have caused droughts and wildfires. It affects business travelers too, in the form of flight cancellations. Worse, extreme temperatures pose a deadly threat to travelers. A major campaign by flight attendants across America is trying to address that.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, an American trade union representing 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines, held a press conference last week at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, to announce that they are trying to get the Department of Transportation to regulate the temperature of the cabin. The group had already submitted a petition to the government, asking for upper and lower limits on aircraft temperatures. Currently, the cabin must be within 5 degrees Fahrenheit (about 2.8 degrees Celsius) of the cockpit, but there are no regulations regarding the temperature itself.
Not all travelers enjoy the same level of temperature, but the issue has become urgent after several cases where extreme heat has caused serious medical problems. The flight attendants union has compiled a list of such stories, including one last June when a United Airlines plane on the tarmac in Denver got so hot that a baby turned bright red and that he was admitted to the hospital. In another case, the cabin temperature hit 99 degrees Fahrenheit; in a third, a flight attendant passed out from the heat.
These conditions are dangerous not only for passengers but also for cabin crew, who suffer from extreme cabin temperatures much more regularly. “This is a matter of safety, health and security. If it’s too hot, people can become dizzy, unconscious, suffer from heat stroke,” said the president of the union, Sara Nelson, at a press conference. “If it’s too cold, they can experience cold stress or even hypothermia.” Nelson said the agreed industry standard for an acceptable temperature range is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, or up to 85 degrees if the in-flight entertainment screens are active.
It is not surprising that the airline industry is resisting the push for regulation, and the government has not yet implemented the petition. Meanwhile, flight attendants are busy collecting data. The union has distributed 60,000 keychain thermometers to cabin crew to monitor temperatures, and flight attendants are urging flyers to download a free app that monitors and reports on extreme temperature.
This is the latest American push for more regulation to ensure comfort on planes, although others – like an effort to mandate a minimum distance between rows of seats – have gone nowhere. Even if this campaign succeeds, it will do nothing to reduce extreme temperatures on planes in other parts of the world, where the situation is sometimes much worse. Last month, a Thomas Cook flight was grounded at Zante Airport in Greece for three hours without air conditioning, and the cabin reportedly became so hot that passengers vomiting and fainting. A month earlier, on a delayed AirAsia flight in India, the captain allegedly tried to force passengers off the plane by detonating the aircraft; viral videos showed passengers coughing and vomiting.
Sometimes, of course, extreme temperatures are caused by aircraft malfunctions, so regulation could lead to an increase in flight stoppages as planes had to be conditioned before flying. But with each new occurrence of medical events caused by heat or cold on board, more passengers will surely join the flight attendants’ call for additional regulation.