This Is Exactly How Cold It Has to Be to Keep a Plane from Flying

Snow and sleet may cause delays, but what about frigid temps?

Blizzard on an international airport, airplanes waiting in the snow, free copy spaceThomas Bethge/Shutterstock
With it being winter, airlines are dealing with a whole lot of angry, exhausted travelers due to flight delays and cancellations. But while snow, sleet, and icy conditions are definitely culprits, frigid single temps aren’t. (Check out these photos to see just how insane those delays can get.)

In fact, severely cold weather doesn’t stand a chance for ruining your flight plans, considering commercial airplanes can fly at an altitude of about 40,000 feet, where temperatures come in around -70 degrees Fahrenheit.

“If the airplane can be kept in a hangar prior to flight, it can operate in very, very cold conditions,” John Cox, a retired airline captain with U.S. Airways, told USA Today. “Airplanes fly in minus 56 Celsius (-69 degrees Fahrenheit) or colder conditions at altitude, therefore if the fluids can be kept warm, the airplane can usually operate.”

So while jet fuel freezes at around -40 degrees Fahrenheit, it will work as normal so long as it’s kept above that temperature on the ground. (And even though those Arctic blasts of air make temps miserably cold around the country, they aren’t that cold!) Once the plane gets moving, the fuel is heated as it makes its way through the engine.

It’s actually better for the planes when it’s chillier out as they’re more efficient in low temperatures, because cold air is denser than warm. That’s why during colder times of the year, you might notice that you have shorter, faster takeoffs than you do during the summer. So as long as there’s no ice on the plane or the runway, you should be able to depart and land on time.

Ready to hit the road? Check out these beach destinations that are guaranteed to beat the winter blues.


Become more interesting every week!

The Reader's Digest "Read Up" Newsletter

We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.