What to Know About Flying in Extreme Heat

Because it's hot af out there

Plane flying in extreme heat
And it's not getting any cooler

It’s fucking hot out there. In fact, July 4 was the hottest day on Earth since records began. The bad news? It’s only going to get hotter. The good news? Unclear at this time. Because extreme heat effects more than just your electric bill and the length of time your dog can be outside — it can also impact your flights.

According to a new report from USA Today, there are maximum temperatures at which aircraft can perform. “The weight at which you can operate (max gross takeoff weight) decreases as the temperature goes up,” former airline pilot and spokesperson for FlightAware, Kathleen Bangs, said. “The hotter and more humid the surrounding air is, the more aircraft components and airfoil performance degrade.”

But it doesn’t even have to get that hot for flights to be canceled or delayed. It’s really dependent on the type of aircraft, the distance its set to travel and the elevation — and as a general rule of them, the higher the elevation and temperature, the dicier. “As either altitude or temperature increase, the performance of the engines and the aircraft deteriorate,” said Robert Mann, an independent airline industry analyst and former airline executive. “Engines produce less power, wings produce less lift and the combination results in the reduced ability to carry revenue payload.”

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This leaves airlines with a few options: offload passengers, hold off on fueling up (which typically means a midpoint stop) or hold off on taking off altogether in hopes that it will eventually cool down. But, for argument’s sake, what happens when the day comes that things don’t cool down? “As global temperatures rise even a degree, it will make a difference,” Mann told USA Today. “At the margin, it may make enough of a difference that you have to consider either weight limiting the aircraft or changing the number of passengers you’re willing to load on that day.”

None of this, of course, is welcome news for travelers already weary from years of pandemic-related delays and cancellations, particularly in the wake of the never-ending travel boom we’re in (fuller flights mean greater odds of getting bumped from a flight). That said, it’s difficult to predict at this time just how many flights are being affected by extreme heat because all heat-related disruptions fall under the greater inclement weather umbrella.

Even still, with a seemingly endless stream of very hot days in our very near future, it’s hard not to feel like the dawn of operational disruptions because of extreme heat is closer than it is far.


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