What to do when you’re baked — or frozen — on a plane

When Eric Crusius boarded his recent American Airlines flight from Washington to Dallas, the air conditioning was powered down and the cabin started to heat up quickly, just as you might expect an aluminum tube to do under the heat of the late summer sun.

“It was pretty steamy,” he recalls.

But that was nothing compared with what happened when he landed. After the plane touched down, its air conditioning switched off again, and this time, the temperature outside was in the triple digits. Passengers waiting to exit the aircraft began to glisten with sweat.

Eventually, relief from the overheated plane came when they reached Dallas-Fort Worth’s cooler terminal, says Crusius, an attorney based in Tysons Corner, Va.

Travel can be many things, but too often it is either too hot or too cold. And not just on an aircraft. Buses, trains and other types of mass transit often get the interior temperature wrong, either overcooling or overheating the cabin. Making matters worse, these modes of transportation generally don’t have comfort standards set by the government or operators.

Cabin comfort, and the challenges of regulating it, became an issue in Dallas this summer when an American Airlines flight attendant reportedly fainted in an overheated plane. American’s maximum “safe” temperature is 90 degrees, and the flight attendants’ union wants to lower that number for the sake of its members and passengers.

Generally, the older the aircraft, the more likely you’ll freeze — or bake — according to Paul Eschenfelder, a retired captain for Delta Air Lines. For example, on an Airbus A330 or a Boeing 777 or 787, you can regulate the temperature almost to the seat. On older aircraft, the system is imprecise.

“If seat 37G was hot, then 12B wound up being frozen out when the temperature was reduced,” he remembers.

Modern aircraft control temperature by zone and can even be adjusted by row. Assuming, of course, that the climate controls are available. When a plane is parked at the gate, it is cooled differently in order to save fuel.

“Cold air is plumbed in from outside through ducting connected to a huge air conditioning unit mounted below the jetway,” explains Patrick Smith, author of “Cockpit Confidential.” “Usually this is adequate. If not, we will start the auxiliary turbine engine that provides air and electricity when the main engines aren’t running.”

Normally, the cabin crew knows it’s just a matter of minutes before the plane’s air conditioning systems kick in, and they’ll ask passengers to be patient. But what if you’re traveling overland and your hosts are less cooperative?

That’s the situation in which Robert Rose, a New York-based TV producer, found himself in when traveling by bus from Playa del Carmen, Mexico, to Orange Walk, Belize, on a hot summer day.

“It was the temperature of a meat cooler,” recalls Rose of the five-hour journey. “I have never been so uncomfortable in my life.”

The passengers asked the driver to turn the air conditioning down, but “he cursed us and refused to do so,” Rose remembers.

Temperature problems extend to other kinds of mass transit, says Alden Cuddihey, a managing director for Accenture’s transit and tolling services division. “At the root is that when you are responsible for carrying large numbers of people, safety is first priority, followed by reliability,” he says. In other words, the historical approach has been: If you’re too cold or too hot, it doesn’t matter as much as whether the mode of transport is unsafe. Comfort has only more recently become a higher priority.

“There are currently no easy solutions to the complaints many customers are lodging,” he says.

Part of the reason is aging equipment and infrastructure. The average bus is 10 to 15 years old and most rail cars are 25 to 30, he says. Most older train stations aren’t built with adequate circulation, so during temperature extremes, they can become unbearably hot or cold.

Temperatures on mass transit aren’t regulated by the government, according to Virginia Miller, a spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Association, a trade group. “Local conditions dictate the specifications that would be created when ordering a bus or train,” she says. “The heating and air conditioning load has to be balanced with the engine’s performance.”

Bottom line: Extreme temperatures are inevitable when you travel. Jamie Michael Hemmings, who runs a publishing company in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., packs for the worst. On his frequent flights to New York he brings a blanket and a jacket and never wears shorts, even in the summer. “Some flights feel like I’m in a blizzard, and if your neighbor turns on their vent, well, there goes the neighborhood,” he says.

Laura Gross, who works for a communications and event-planning company in Washington, dresses in layers when traveling. “Short sleeves or a sleeveless shirt, with a lightweight sweater that will easily scrunch up in my purse,” she says. “I always wear pants, too. If bringing a carry-on, I will bring shorts or a dress to change into once I get to my destination, if I need to. I also bring socks in my purse to put on once I’m in my seat.”

Crew members say they’ll try to make your trip as comfortable as possible. But at a time of year when outside weather can be intense, and when the aging infrastructure isn’t enough to protect you, cabin comfort is your responsibility. Bring a blanket, dress in layers and hope for the best.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend