How Airlines in the Midwest Are Protecting Workers From Extreme Cold

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If you’re one of the unfortunate souls who is obligated to travel in this polar vortex’s extreme temperatures, you’re probably pretty concerned about showing up to the airport only to discover that your flight has been delayed or cancelled. But there are still folks turning up to work every day in subzero temperatures to make sure air travel will run as smoothly as possible—and they’re not always privy to the comfort of four walls and heat.

Cancellations are just one of the measures airlines have been taking to protect workers from the extreme cold that’s been sweeping across the United States. Airports in Chicago, like Midway and O’Hare, have been struggling to keep up with freezing temperatures. That inability to provide a safe working environment means flights are being cancelled so that workers can stay healthy. United Airlines alone cancelled 500 flights out of O’Hare on Wednesday and Thursday—a whopping 80 percent of scheduled flights, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But twenty percent of flights are still taking off from frozen Midwest wastelands, and airlines are working hard to make sure the folks still braving the weather are going to be equipped with the tools they need to stay warm.


Southwest Airlines is focusing on providing insulated clothing. Its bringing out industrial-grade coats, gloves, and face masks for workers to wear, USA Today reports. It’s a smart move—not all folks are privileged enough to have cozy winter wear, and even some of the basic supplies that could get you through a normal winter aren’t going to be good enough when temperatures start to drop.

At O’Hare, American Airlines is setting up what they’re calling a “mobile command center,” a van that’s cruising around to deliver hand warmers, extra gloves, and hot drinks to baggage handlers. Folks are even welcome to hop into the van for a few minutes to warm up.


In addition, American is offering hot chili in its airport lounge and encouraging employees to take part whenever they need. And instead of the traditional shuttle buses, American is picking up employees from the parking lot in smaller and more adequately heated vans.

United Airlines is aiming for physical comfort above all. They’re actually calling in workers from other cities so they can rotate out local workers, thus ensuring everyone spends minimal time outdoors. Heated shelters are big for the airline, too, so anyone not immediately required outdoors can warm up inside.


Even the airplanes are encouraged to stay cozy—they’re being kept in hangars unless they absolutely need to be used. Aircrafts and their necessary equipment don’t perform well when they’re subjected to consistently extreme temperatures. Batteries are a big concern—when they get cold, they provide significantly less power which results in battery-powered equipment needing to be connected to a different power source or kept constantly running. Water sources on planes can freeze up, too. It’s just a bad situation for everyone involved.

It looks like there’s only a day or two more of misery before the polar vortex relents, as per a USA Today tracker. Until then, check your flights for cancellations—and send some good vibes to the workers still kicking ass to keep air traffic on the move.