Have you ever felt cold to the bone while flying on an airplane? It can definitely be a pet peeve, adding on to your travel discomfort. But did you know that there’s a medical reason why airlines turn the temperature way down? 

It has to do with hypoxia, a common medical condition experienced by airline passengers. When the tissue in the body doesn’t get enough oxygen, hypoxia occurs. The American Society for Testing and Materials ran a study, revealing how passengers aboard an airplane are more likely to pass out while flying than they would if they were on the ground. 

As such, if an airline cabin is heated (paired with high cabin pressure), it can trigger the onset of hypoxia. And since each person’s body temperature varies, airlines would rather maintain a much cooler cabin and cause several passengers to be cold, rather than have a single passenger pass out. 

Cathay Pacific Business Class Seat

(Image source: Cathay Pacific)

So what do you do? Those who travel often would advise others to bring layers to keep themselves warm, because those blankets you often receive in economy cabins don’t do much justice. (Unless, of course, you’re flying in business or first class.)

Moreover, the age of the airplane can also make a huge difference. According to Paul Eschenfelder, a retired Delta captain, planes that are newer can regulate cabin pressure a lot better because of their much more advanced thermostats. They can adjust the temperature in sections of the plane, and some even in specific rows. However, older models have less developed air conditioning systems, allowing for a single low temperature across all cabins.

Passing out is not the only concern, lower temperatures also help prevent dehydration. Because let’s face it, not everyone is drinking cup after cup of water while flying. (Remember, you can lose about 8 percent of your bodily water on a 10 hour flight. The Aerospace Medical Association recommends drinking about 8 ounces of water every hour you are up in the air.)

So on your next trip—be it a long- or short-haul—remember to wear or bring a few layers of clothing to keep you comfortable. And if you’re on a much newer plane, ask the flight attendant to turn it up just a bit in the row you’re sitting in, if you’re really uncomfortable.

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