Here’s Why It’s Always So Damn Cold on Airplanes

In addition to being cramped and generally uncomfortable, airplane cabins oscillate between mildly chilly and absolutely frigid. On long flights, you’re typically afforded little respite between the thumping turbulence and the screaming child running down the aisle, and the temperature is usually sure to make you crave some kind of piping-hot tranquilizer.

But why are passenger plane cabins so cold? Business Insider reports on a 2008 study by the American Society for Testing and Materials, which probed the links between cabin pressure and fainting. The study ultimately found that a warm cabin contributes to the likelihood of passing out mid-flight.

The chances of fainting are augmented when you’re in an airplane, the study found, due to a condition known as hypoxia, which happens when you experience a “lack of sufficient oxygen in the blood, tissues, and/or cells to maintain normal physiological function,” according to the FAA. Hypoxia is pretty common, and can occur when flying in a “non-pressurized aircraft above 10,000 ft without supplemental oxygen.” It’s also stimulated during “rapid decompression during flight,” or a “pressurization system malfunction, or oxygen system malfunction.”

The ASTM concluded that warmer cabin temperatures may contribute to hypoxia, which in turn leads to syncope -- the medical term for fainting. This is of course something airlines want to avoid at all costs, so the temperature is kept cooler, to ward off the chance of causing any grievous medical problems for customers who would no doubt file a lawsuit. (We’ve reached out to various airlines concerning the issue and will update the post when we hear back.)

Higher cabin pressure isn’t the only unexpected thing on your flight that can portend grim consequences: A study last month found that synthetic engine oils occasionally seep into the cabin during the air bleeding process, potentially causing a condition known as aerotoxic syndrome -- which can lead to variety of debilitating health issues.

Oh yeah, and your seat probably hasn’t been cleaned in ages, but that might not be a problem when the airline gives it to someone else for no apparent reason.

[Travel + Leisure, Business Insider]

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Sam Blum is a News Staff Writer for Thrillist. He's also a martial arts and music nerd who appreciates a fine sandwich and cute dogs. Find his clips in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Club and Esquire. He's on Twitter @Blumnessmonster.