Why Do We Make Such Poor Choices on Planes? (Cabin Temperature Edition)

I mentioned in my report on flying Etihad first class Dallas Fort Worth – Abu Dhabi that the cabin was hot and I woke up mid-sleep sweating.

European and especially Asian carriers tend to keep the temperature on their planes hot. JAL can be like a sauna. US airline flights tend to be at a cooler temperature. I haven’t personally had problems with the temperature of cabins on Gulf carrier flights, though others certainly report that they have.

A couple of people asked me why I didn’t ask a flight attendant to turn down the temperature in the cabin. This usually works, at least a little (they’ll adjust the temperature and it might cool down a couple of degrees).

Here’s the thing: Sometimes when you wake up in the middle of sleep you’re not thinking super clearly.

  • Can I just fall back to sleep?
  • How hard is it groggy and half asleep to discuss things with a crew member?
  • Will it even help, and is it worth the effort then? (It seems so hard)
  • Is it just me having this issue, am I inconveniencing other passengers?

Similarly it might take 30 seconds to get something out of my bag that might make me more comfortable, maybe I need a throat lozenge or some tylenol. But little things seem so much harder when you wake up groggy on a plane. I’ll think about it for several minutes instead of just getting up.

And in this case I had already slept several hours, after the meal service. I’ve come too far in the flight for it to really matter.

In hindsight it always makes sense to ask to reduce the temperature. Even if they don’t, the effort and time just isn’t that much. However in the moment, not thinking clearly, it seems so hard.

Have you found that carriers outside the U.S. keep their cabins too hot during flight? Have you had luck getting them to cool things down for you?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yup, I ask, usually works for a little while and then I ask again. I also bring a tshirt and shirts to sleep in. If I don’t change into those, even if the cabin is cool when I’m ready to sleep, I regret it and wind up doing it anyway.

  2. My worst experience ever was on JAL, and it is actually the event that catapulted me into the luxury flying game. I was on a flight from Japan and I had repeatedly complained about the ridiculous temperature, but with no success. I would ring the call button about every 60 seconds (I was much younger then and a bit of a punk) continuing to ask for something to be done. After a while I stripped down to just my pants, no shirt, shoes, or socks (like I said, I was much younger then so it wasn’t as frightening a sight as it would be today). When I threatened to take my pants off they offered to move me up front (at the time I assumed they meant several rows). I accepted and they put me in a first class suite…my life was changed forever! I’m still not sure why they chose to move me to first class versus simply lowering the temperature (or why the rest of the plane wasn’t complaining too, maybe because everyone was asleep or “groggy”), but in the end I got to experience the front of the plane and the rest is millions of miles of history (literally). So yes, I have experienced the crazy hot temperatures of airlines outside of the U.S., and no, I haven’t had any success with getting them to change it, but somehow I am grateful for it.

  3. Just got back from a round trip Airfrance and was surprised how warm the plan was in comparison to flying domestic US carriers. Also no air vent above the seats. I made sure to dress lightly on the way back. And don’t get me started on the temp inside CDG…..

  4. I don’t understand what reason there could possibly be not to have individual air vents… if there were such a drastic cost savings, I feel like you wouldn’t see them on low cost carriers like Norwegian.

  5. Gary, I totally get the train of thought you describe. We flew home over the Pacific on AA last Thanksgiving. Being the actual holiday, two things were no surprise: the upgrade into business was a cinch, and the crew were pretty crap. Dinner options were also pretty crap, and you may or may not have gotten what you “ordered.” (No matter, I am here for the B-n-B, the beer and bed.) Anyway, when I woke way too warm for comfort, in addition to your train of thought, I was like: do I dare disturb the status quo with this crew? Will I get the opposite of what I request? Or a sundae?
    I changed from pants to shorts for a few hours instead, but there was no more sleeping.

  6. Thx for this post. I thought that I was the only one complaining about how hot the cabin temps are in most foreign airlines. Every Asian carrier that I have flown is bad (as in very warm cabin temp.) with the exception of Cathay which was so great. I too woke up twice just sweating my a** off! And where did all those air vents from older aircrafts gone?

  7. never been on JAL but on CX, KE and OZ plenty of times and temps were normal to slightly cool.
    if you want to talk about sauna, you should visit one of asian hotels in winter time. hotels there turn off A/C during non-summer period. they really pump up the heat and there is no way to lower the room temperature where it can reach up to 80 degrees.

  8. Personally I find many airlines, especially US ones, to run iceboxes. I often have to ask a flight attendant to turn up the temperature in the cabin to stop shivering — it’s as low as 72 F in the middle of summer!!!

  9. One would notice that in general:

    The passengers who complained that the cabin temperatures in non-US airlines are too warm tend to be Americans. These are the same people who think the temperature in US airlines cabin is ideal as they are used to that all their lives. Not sure if Canadians are in the same pot, which is why I didnt say North Americans.


    The passengers who have no issues or are perfectly fine with the so-called warmer cabin temperatures in non-US airlines tend to be non-Americans. Some or many or all of them think US airlines cabin is a little too cold.

    So, really, it is a cultural / habitual thing.

    To think that the entire plane should adjust the cabin temperature to what you want or are used to, when there is no individual air vent controls, is frankly, a bit selfish. Would you like it if someone on a US airline ask to turn up the temperature because even with blankets etc it is not warm enough? Quite a little US-centric behavior even if you dont actually notice it yourself. If you dont like or cannot tolerate what you experience, then perhaps consider taking another airline?

  10. No its a cultural thing that Americans will complain to get what v they want, while other cultures put up with shit. I think it’s changing. People from other cultures are becoming aggressive too.

  11. In Japan the “Cool Biz” campaign in the summer months means nearly all government offices are cooled only to 28 Celcius, about 80 degrees. Therefore most Japanese are used to very warm indoor air in the summer. My guess is that this somehow translates into cabin temperature, although it’s amazing no one (with critical thinking skills) realized that in an airplane the temperature is not going to have an impact on energy use, carbon emissions or the environment.

  12. Flying home in JAL first a few months ago, it was so hot that I woke up sweating. I called the stewardess to bring me another glass of Salon and 17 year old whiskey, and I had no problem falling back asleep!

  13. @bangkokiscool – hey, who cares about its impact on energy use? that’s the least of our THINKING readers’ concern.

  14. Steven k stole my thunder! This is most certainly a cultural/geographical issue and is greatly influenced by the tastes/norms of the region from which the airline and flight crew hail. As for Asian hotels in the winter, I once stayed at a nice hotel in Japan (for 3 weeks) during the month of January and my room was a solid 83-85 degrees F! I was sweating and dying in there, and the windows did not open. Of course, any work in Japan requires one to dress in business attire and I’d have a sweat stained collar by the time I arrived in the lobby each morning. It was terrible. And, I complained to the front desk, The manager and 3 other gentlemen dutifully came up to my room and poked around. What I got from that exchange was that the a/c is turned off for the winter and there’s nothing they could do. Oh, and that they didn’t see anything unusual about such conditions. I was moved to a different room lower in the hotel with a window where the inner pane opened. That helped a little – but it was still 80F in there.

    In the end, it may have been good for me – lost 20 pounds that month…… 🙂

  15. I agree with the other commenters saying it is cultural thing. I’m an Australian and I found the trips I have taken on AA to be freezing. I think the Asian carriers are much more bearable. A friend and I were talking about this recently and she noted, as someone who usually finds aeroplanes, cinemas etc uncomfortably cold, that her JAL flight in particular was relievingly warm.

  16. @Jane: Room temperature is 68-72F.

    Better too cold than too hot. It’s more socially acceptable to add layers than to remove them.

  17. When traveling on foreign carriers I bring a battery powered fan which works wonders at allowing me to sleep. I worry that I won’t be able to get it on board an upcoming Qatar flight.

  18. @ gsd101, cool story! Did you put your shirt and shoes on when moved to first class?

    I’ve resorted to sleeping shirtless (I’m always barefoot), but only in first class cabins on JL, CX, and EY, where there is a lot of privacy. I’m quite fit, so hopefully if anyone did see me it wouldn’t have been too distressing a sight.

  19. I think it’s more an issue of personal conditioning. Some people “run hot” while others “run cold.” Individual air vents are a lifesaver for me. I love flying in first class on airlines that allocate two vents per person in F. I sleep with them both open. Since the vents blow clean, cold air, they’re wonderful. Then, people who are chilly can close their vents, and sleep under a blanket (or two or three).

    Since I exercise a lot, I have a high metabolism, so I’m usually overheated on planes. I’m often the one begging the flight attendants to lower the temperature.

    It seems to me that setting the cabin temperature low is better than high, since people can sleep under a blanket (or two or three). It’s not really acceptable for people to sleep in their underwear on planes.

    Especially in premium cabins, where the airline supplies PJs and thick comforters, keeping the cabin hot is crazy.

  20. Air Berlin keeps their Business Class hot! We were dying and asked the FA to lower the temp and though every other part of their service was wonderful, they told us no and that it wasn’t hot in there! There was a gentlemen in front of us who stood almost the whole time bc sitting in his seat was too hot and he was dripping with sweat!

  21. I fly to Japan frequently and I am always sensitive to a warm cabin. My worst experiences have been on JAL and I do my best to avoid them for long haul now. For an international cabin, it would make sense to go for a lower temperature since blankets are available and it’s much easier to get warmer than cooler IMHO.

  22. Well, I’ve just had a flight, and it was freezingly cold in the cabin. Didn’t know what to do with myself to get warm. It didn’t seem that I was the only one freezing – passengers sitting around me embraced themselves as tightly as they could. But I’ve never traveled with an US airline, so after reading other comments, I guess the US ones and I are a match made in heaven.

  23. Best service I ever got- flying SQ Fon Xmas day. Super warm; didn’t ask to lower the temperature but asked for 2 cold towels; one for my head and one for my neck. I got 2 ICY cold towels every 20minutes for four hours (until asleep) ; only asked for fresh towels the first time.

  24. Agree with the others saying it’s a cultural thing.
    I flew my first flights on AA last year, and it was freezing! After seeing all you American bloggers complaining about warm foreign flights for years, it was amusing to see why you think that!

  25. IMHO Lufthansa is the worst about this among the European carriers. It’s like flying in a sauna and I never sleep well on their flights from the US to Europe.

  26. Europeans like it warm; I don’t think it specifically applies to planes. Maybe they stay skinnier than Americans because excess blubber would only make matters worse.

  27. I flew Cathay Pacific F last December and had an amazing flight from JFK > YVR > HKG. However, on the way home, the temperature was brutal. I wasn’t even thinking that it was something out of the ordinary, but I kept cycling between too hot and too cold. The blanket was super warm and I guess the pajamas didn’t help. I still highly recommend Cathay…maybe I need to work on not being so passive :)!

  28. I find that UA’s 777 planes can be freezing. I now wear three layers on top and still need a blanket. I have never figured out how to warm my feet which remain ice blocks until well into the descent.

  29. I’m convinced that if you get any group of people from any culture, half will find the ambient temperature too hot, the rest too cold. I definitely think Americans are more likely to believe that it is preferable for the temperature to be too cold than too hot, because individual adjustment is easier (eg, put a sweater on). What I’ve always found ironic is that I treasure my CX PJs for use anywhere except their planes, where I need something much cooler on.

  30. In CX case, Because they didn’t carry enough blankets for every passengers, that’s why they tend to turn the aircon to sauna level.

  31. Try flying from Doha on BA to LHR and then AA to DFW. You (used to) leave Doha around midnight in a pretty warm airplane. It would cool off a bit after you took off, but you landed less than 100 miles later in Bahrain. If you are unlucky and near the loading door for the galley (as I was), they open the door and now fully provision the plane. All that outside air comes in and you are stuck sweltering and sweating. After an about 90 minutes of sauna time, you take off for LHR in your soggy clothes and a warm BA plane. Seven hours later, you are in LHR and switching to AA to DFW. Now you get to freeze your way to Dallas. If you are smart and fortunate, you have at least a two hour layover in DFW, so you rush to the Terminal A Admiral’s Club and take a shower with eight shower heads. Inexpressible joy. If you are smart and not forgetful, you have packed a change of clothes in your carry on….

  32. It’s not simply “culture.” It’s culture in the US to keep the planes cooler because people are more comfortable with a 70F plane when they are overweight.

    There’s nothing especially wrong with being overweight, but I can say from experience that a “comfortable temperature” is determined directly by the amount of body fat one has. People in the US tend to have more than the rest of the world.

  33. Reality: Ding! someone in row 4 is cold. And complains. Ding again! someone in row 35 is Hot. And complains. LOL. No one is ever happy with the cabin temperature.
    Coping is key. Bring a sweater or blanket with you if you tend to be cold on planes.
    Hot? Dress in layers.

  34. @frank,

    I agree that those who tend to be cold can use a blanket or sweater. However, advising those who find it hot to “dress in layers” only goes so far. I fly in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops (barefoot when at my seat) and find it oppressively hot in the cabin on most flights. If I manage to fall asleep, I wake up sweaty. If I have my own air vents, I have them on full, pointing at me. If I don’t have my own air vents, what do you advise? Should I take off my shirt and pants, and fly in just my underwear?

  35. Just last night on our DEN-DFW flight on AA we were in row 30ish and it was HOT. I was covered in sweat and sticking to my seat. Flight attendant said the A/C was just slow to cool the plane, but I’m guessing it was broken. There was barely any air coming out of the vent too. When we deplaned the front half of the plane was freezing. I’ve never been hot on a domestic flight, but this was just awful.

  36. @ jamesb2147, it might be generally true that fat people are more comfortable in a colder room, while skinny people want it warmer. I know I’ve heard it said often enough. I’m a counterexample: I’m 5’9′ and 140 pounds. I do an hour of vigorous aerobic activity 5 days a week, and lift weights 3-4 days a week. No one would think I’m even a little overweight. Yet I’m always too hot on planes. I’m in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, sweating in the heat, and when I look around, others have blankets.

  37. @ Randy.

    I’ve had hot uncomfortable cabins on the ground with no air hook-up, but hot in the air, not so much. Stuffy/Warm, yes. Enough to get undress, NO. What you consider cold, I may consider comfortable. Plan accordingly.

  38. @frank, I can let you know what I consider cold after I experience it. I’ve been flying a lot for many years and haven’t had a cold plane yet. Hot, yes. And I don’t mean on the ground, when the sun heats the plane to well over 100, I mean in the air, when I’m trying to sleep on a long-haul international but can’t because it’s too hot, or if I do fall asleep I wake drenched in sweat.

  39. I’d rather make a case the other way arround. US airlines are often adjust cabin temperature *way* too low. This might be fine n short flights to get cool down, on international flights it’s a real anoyance. When people in large numbers have to ask for second blankets, something must be wrong.

  40. @Emmanuel Ruiz – Agreed. An extra blanket is hardly a problem when you have people soaking wet from sweat just so that the people that get cold easily can be comfortable.

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