Why Do Some of Us Feel Cold When Flying?


Ever wonder why more than a few airline passengers find themselves feeling uncomfortably chilly during their flights? It has to do with windchill factor – which isn’t something most of us would associate with interior conditions, but which in fact is a factor used in evaluating airline cabin temperatures and their regulation. This regulation aims to constantly maintain air flow to achieve a lower temperature than we would feel without it, as if it were a light breeze. You may wonder why and how, so here’s a bit of an explanation.

In all commercial aircraft, temperature is regulated via a control panel which provides for a range between 18º and 30º Celsius (64-86º Fahrenheit), at the discretion of the flight attendants. Beyond that, at Iberia our aircraft have an extra option for independent climate control – avoiding great disparities – in different areas of the cabin, with the goal of making passengers as comfortable as possible by creating a balance between their own body heat and cabin temperature.

The reason that cabin temperature should not be allowed to go too high is not so much to avoid hypoxia (lack of oxygen) as to control the pressure of the air breathed inflight by passengers. Before releasing air into the cabin, it must be compressed to the proper pressure. And it should be noted that cabin pressurisation and climatisation are two completely different matters, so even if there should be issues with either during the flight, the oxygen level will remain constant.

And though outside temperatures can drop to something like -45ºC (-49ºF), cabin temperature is maintained thanks to its air conditioning system, which uses exchangers to mix very hot air with cold air until it reaches the optimum temperature (chosen by the pilot before takeoff).

So then why for some passengers does it get a little too cool for comfort (and by the way it’s not due to elevated humidity (similar to the effect produced on land in coastal areas), since cabin humidity is a mere five percent or so)? In part, this sensation is a bit subjective and personal, varying from person to person. But do feel free to mention any temperature discomfort to a flight attendant, and they will do their best to accommodate you (just please be aware that any temperature adjustment will require 20 to 30 minutes to take full effect).