This Is Why It’s So Cold on Airplanes

Believe it or not, the answer has to do with your well-being.

Alright, picture this: You’ve checked your luggage, you have your carry-on in hand, and you’re boarding the plane to your next destination, whether it’s a fun mini vacation with the family or an important business trip. As you sit in your seat and look out the round airplane window, the cool cabin air hits you—and before you know it, you’re freezing. Grabbing a sweatshirt or blanket, you ask yourself, “Why is it cold on airplanes, anyway?”

It’s a pretty well-known airplane fact that temperatures in plane cabins tend to be cooler, but why exactly is that a thing? We did some digging and found the reason. Once you read up on the chilly rationale, learn what you’re probably doing on an airplane that flight attendants wouldn’t.

Why are airplanes cold?

Turns out, it’s not just a quirky airplane feature—there’s a medical reason why airplanes are cold. ASTM International conducted a study that looked into the correlation between people fainting while in the air and the cabin pressure and temperature. They found that people tend to faint more easily while flying because of a medical condition known as hypoxia. It occurs when the body tissue doesn’t receive enough oxygen—and high cabin pressure and warm temperatures can further this reaction. It’s fairly common in airline passengers.

Since body temperatures vary, airlines will keep the temperature on the low side just to be safe. That’s unfortunate for people who shiver even at the slightest breeze, but packing on a few extra layers is better than having the guy next to you pass out. Make sure to always follow these etiquette rules when flying.

What is the temperature on an airplane?

AeroTime Hub reports that, typically, planes are kept between 22°C and 24°C (or, roughly, between 71°F and 75°F). Seems warm enough, right? Well, it may seem cooler than usual to some passengers because they’re sitting still in their seats. If they moved around in the plane, they may work up more of a sweat and not feel so chilly.

And that leads to another question: Who controls the temperature on airplanes? According to Josephine Remo, a flight attendant with Scandinavian Airlines, both pilots and flight attendants can control the cabin temperature. Remo also says each airline has its own standards for cabin temperatures.

While the thermostat is typically in the cockpit, Deanna Castro, who has been a flight attendant for 16 years and is the founder of Future Flight Attendant, says many newer aircrafts have control panels that flight attendants can use to control the cabin temperature. “We like that much better because we don’t have to call the pilots constantly to try and get the temperature right,” Castro explains.

It seems like there would be some sort of federal regulation for cabin temperature, right? Well, there actually isn’t—and Castro says some flight attendants wish there was a set rule in place. “Our union, the AFA [Association of Flight Attendants], has been trying to establish federal regulations for temperature, but at this time the FAA has not made any temperature rules or guidelines.”

Next, learn about other unique airplane facts, like what happens when you flush an airplane toilet, how high planes really fly, and what certain airplane chimes mean.

Additional reporting by Morgan Cutolo

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Kelly Kuehn
Kelly Kuehn is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest covering entertainment, trivia, and history. When she’s not writing you can find her watching the latest and greatest movies, listening to a true crime podcast (or two), blasting ‘90s music, and hiking with her dog, Ryker, throughout New England.