Flight Attendants Push for Regulations on Cabin Temperature
Calling the current state of airplane cabins an unregulated mess where passengers and crew can be left to cook or freeze, the biggest union of flight attendants beseeched the Department of Transportation to set official guidelines for cabin temperatures.
"We're playing catch-up when it comes to airplanes that are too hot or too cold, and it's a serious safety hazard that can cause major disruptions in operation," said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
Right now, there is no regulation that states what the upper or lower limits of the cabin temperature should be for planes. The current government guideline is that the cabin be no more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer or cooler than the cockpit — but never states what range either temperature must stay within. Airlines each have their own operating standards that include monitoring cabin temperature, but they vary wildly and can still be unbearable, or worse — like when a 4-month-old baby dangerously overheated on a United Express plane stuck on the tarmac at Denver Airport (DEN) on a 90-degree day last year.
The AFA proposal, designed with input from American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, aircraft manufacturers, airlines, airline crews and passengers, would tell airlines to aim to keep their cabins between 65 degrees and 75 degrees, with a hard maximum of 80 degrees either in flight or on the ground. If in-flight entertainment is on, that temperature cap would be raised to 85 degrees.
"It's really absurd that we don't have these on the books already," Nelson said. "These need to be standards just like any other safety regulation."
Appeals to the general airline industry through the years have been dismissed or met with suspicion, Nelson said, so the union is asking the federal government to get involved.
"We're finding that we're just fighting the same battles over and over again," she said. "It's high time for the DOT to set standards for everyone."
To bolster its case, the union has developed an app called 2Hot2Cold that allows airlines crews and passengers to log extreme temperatures in airplane cabins, and is distributing 60,000 thermometers to flight attendants around the country. Nelson said the app's logged more than 1,000 responses since it was rolled out last week, and that the union expects to publish its first round of results in late September or early October. (TPG editor-at-large Nick Ewen tried out the app on a recent flight and found it more comprehensive than he'd expected, but noted that it definitely required you to have a thermometer handy.)
The AFA's proposed changes have been submitted as a petition to the DOT but not yet opened up for public discussion. Spokespeople for the DOT and Federal Aviation Administration, which handles flight safety, didn't return calls for comment.