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Paul McGuckin is pretty heated about an ice-cold seat on an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Toronto. And he’s someone who is used to the cold.
“I upgraded my seat so I could have extra leg room,” says McGuckin, a six-footer who has a severe hip issue.
“Air Canada uses Boeing 767 aircraft. I was seated in an exit row with plenty of leg room. It was a bonus that the guy sitting next to me got upgraded to first class, so his seat was empty.
“All was good until we left the ground. In the air, the temperatures were absolutely freezing, as in subzero.
“I play hockey, drive a snowmobile, hunt and spend a great deal of time outside. And I work in the meat processing industry, so I spend a ton of time in the cold.
“Without question, the only time in my life where I have been as cold was when I sat in a similar seat last year flying to Poland on Air Canada’s Rouge service.”
McGuckin asked the flight attendant for a blanket and was immediately offered a blanket for purchase. He asked to speak with the crew chief and waited two hours for someone to show up and agree the temperature was freezing.
When offered another seat without any spare leg room, he declined and finally received blankets at no cost.
There’s a reason why airplane cabins are generally kept very cold, says a study by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Passengers are more likely to faint on board an aircraft than on the ground.
That’s because of hypoxia, a medical condition that is relatively common in airline passengers and occurs when the body tissue does not receive enough oxygen.
An overheated cabin can further increase the chances of a passenger fainting.
“Because everyone’s body temperatures are different, airlines would rather keep the cabin a little too cool and have some passengers be cold instead of even having one passenger faint,” says Business Insider magazine.
An airplane cabin is also a workplace for the flight crew, who have to put up with temperature while working in limited space and wearing layered uniforms.
“Our cabin crew is always calling for cool air and I oblige,” said Chris Manno, a captain for a major U.S. airline in Conde Nast Traveller magazine.
“Add to that the way many passengers dress, wearing light resort wear, so it’s likely when the temp is comfortably cool for the working crew, it’s probably a little cold for the seated, not-working passenger in shorts and a T-shirt.”
The age of the aircraft is another factor for low cabin temperature. Older planes are more likely to be chilly because of less developed air conditioning systems.
Newer models, such as the Boeing 777 or 787, have advanced thermostats that can regulate temperatures by zone and can even adjust them by row.
On older aircraft, such as the extended range Boeing 767, which entered service in 2000, the air conditioning system is less precise.
“Travel can be many things, but too often it is either too hot or too cold,” says Washington Post travel writer Christopher Elliott. “And not just on an aircraft. Buses, trains and other types of mass transit often get the interior temperature wrong, either overcooling or overheating the cabin.”
Making matters worse, these modes of transportation generally don’t have comfort standards, with maximum and minimum temperatures set by the government or operators.
In McGuckin’s case, when I forwarded his email to Air Canada’s media contacts, he received a $ 200 credit on a future flight.
“I wanted my money back for the upgrade. My money back for the flight,” he says. “I wanted Air Canada to take the four seats on either side of the aircraft at the exit door out of service.
“I wanted to know why, if Air Canada is aware these seats are so cold, it doesn’t warn customers in advance to wear warm clothes or offer extra blankets. On my flight to Poland, I had five blankets and was still cold.”
Six weeks after a refund was denied, he was still hot and bothered by Air Canada’s chilly attitude toward customer service.
On the flight from Vancouver, he was told that a customer service representative would be waiting when he landed. No one was there.
He tried to call the phone number on the back of his Air Canada Altitude status card. (He flies 50,000 miles a year.) The number was disconnected.
When his online complaint had no reply after 30 days, he learned that Air Canada had called in its legal department, extending his wait.
He called the federal transportation ministry, “but it’s not a flight safety issue until the paying customer goes nuts on board the plane because of how they have been treated and has to be restrained.”
My advice: Dress in layers you can add or remove. Bring your own blankets.
Do research before booking the ticket. Google the flight number to see what type of aircraft is used.
“The newer the plane, the more advanced the onboard technology and that goes for air systems,” says Conde Nast Traveller. “The simplest way to guess at your aircraft’s age is by reading the Wikipedia pages. A search can even reveal the exact date your aircraft entered service.”
Ellen Roseman’s column runs in Smart Money. email@example.com