This summer, a mother was alarmed when her infant child suffered from heatstroke while sitting on a plane that was stuck on the tarmac at Denver International Airport. Emily France and her four-month old son, Owen, sweated it out aboard what she described as an “oven with wings” for more than an hour in June of 2017 before the plane returned to the gate and passengers were briefly allowed off. When they returned to the plane, France said that the cabin felt even warmer than before, so she stripped off her child’s clothing and asked the flight attendants to bring her ice bags to try and cool him down. She then claims that her son turned a color she had never seen before and went limp in her arms. The child was taken away by an ambulance, but doctors determined that he suffered no long-term effects.
Ms. France’s ordeal is not uncommon, as airlines have struggled with overheated airplane cabins for quite some time. In the summer of 2013, several passengers on a delayed Allegiant Air flight became ill as the plane sat on the tarmac in the desert heat of Las Vegas. Also in 2013, more than 150 Allegiant Air passengers were forced to remain in an airplane on the runway for 2 1/2 hours in Phoenix after a maintenance problem knocked out air conditioning on the plane. After this incident, Allegiant spent more than $1 million on six, 60-ton cooling units for use at the Las Vegas airport, in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the Phoenix fiasco.
These problems arguably stem from the fact that each airline sets its own guidelines for internal cabin temperature, with no formal guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Some airlines allow internal temperatures of up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which, to the average person, is swelteringly hot. The issues also stem from the practice of pilots turning off the air conditioning to save fuel when a plane is at the gate or taxiing. Other times, the outside air temperature is so warm (for example, in places like Las Vegas and Phoenix), that the airplane’s air conditioning cannot keep up.