How hot is too hot aboard an airliner? The law doesn’t say

FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2008, file photo, planes taxi on runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

DENVER (AP) — 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 the cabin.

Airlines have their own guidelines — some allowing the mercury to hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) — 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 beet-red infant had to plead to be let off a broiling regional jet stuck on the tarmac at Denver International Airport.


This June 22, 2017 photo provided by Maria de Los Angeles-Baida shows Emily France with her 4-month-old son Owen in Denver. France who says the infant overheated on a delayed United Airlines flight at Denver’s airport, has hired an attorney and hopes the Federal Aviation Administration takes note. (Maria de Los Angeles-Baida via AP)
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 re-boarded the United Airlines flight to El Paso, Texas, 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 limp in my arms.”

“I said, ‘Get an ambulance and get me off the plane,’” she recalled.

She and the boy were taken away 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 Rapoport.

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 onboard air conditioning malfunctions or can’t keep up.

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