Extreme heat sickens passengers on jet in Las Vegas: How the heat wave may wreak havoc on your flight

Just about anyone who has flown this summer knows that thunderstorms can lead to widespread delays and cancellations. Extreme heat does not upend flights as much as thunderstorms, but high temps can add a hiccup to travel plans - an important fact to keep in mind as much of the United States withers under a prolonged heat wave.

Brian Dilse, an academic instructor in the University of North Dakota’s Department of Aviation, said planes must sometimes lighten their load to take off in the heat. The airline has a few choices: Fly with less fuel, luggage or people. Dilse said the carrier, which may have overbooked the flight, will make this decision last minute. If everyone shows up for the flight, the airline may have to bump people.

“They can maybe take only 90 people, even if they have 100 seats,” he said.

Those superheated days are known as “weight restriction days,” The Washington Post wrote in 2017. A Columbia University study published two years earlier suggested there could be four times as many of those days by 2050 at the country’s most at-risk airports.

“We can say with high confidence that the type of heat events that lead to weight limits are going to increase in the future,” Radley Horton, a Columbia climate scientist who worked on the study, told The Post at the time.

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On Monday, a Delta flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta was canceled after multiple people on board needed to be checked out by emergency workers. The plane experienced an initial delay taxiing due to weight and balance issues - related to high temperatures - and the temperature rose on board, making some people sick. The temperature was about 110 degrees, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.


One passenger, Krista Garvin, told CNN that some people passed out and others vomited. Emergency responders checked out “multiple” passengers, according to the airline, and one passenger and one flight attendant were taken to the hospital.

“There was just like chaos at this point,” she said. “There was a woman walking up the aisle, she looked like she was about to just pass out and they ended up putting the oxygen mask on her.”

In a statement, Delta apologized for the experience.

“Delta teams are looking into the circumstances that led to uncomfortable temperatures inside the cabin and we appreciate the efforts of our people and first responders at Harry Reid International,” the statement said.

The airline has also apologized directly to passengers and offered compensation. Travelers eventually were booked on other flights.

To avoid the risk of being bumped due to heat-related adjustments, Dilse recommends booking an early morning flight. “No one like to fly at 5 a.m., but it’s cooler then and the plane should leave on time,” he said.

The aviation instructor warned that once onboard, travelers should brace themselves for a toasty cabin. Some aircraft do not turn on the air-conditioning until liftoff. “Jets take air from the engine and will shut off the air to the cabin for a short time,” he said. If allowed, close the window shades.

For ground transportation, be careful of riding public transportation, which might lack air-conditioning. Subway cars and buses might also be packed, increasing the heat index. Shannon Yates, a senior Italy, Greece, Turkey and North Asia specialist with Audley Travel, recommends ride hailing and taxis.

Long-distance trains, especially the modern high-speed models, will be more comfortable than local transit. Splurge on a higher-class ticket, especially for overnight trains.

“If there’s a 15-euro and 70-euro ticket, I would go with the 70-euro one every time,” Yates said.