Aviation’s Greatest Mysteries: Individual Air Nozzle Edition

Y’all are a smart bunch, and frequently help me solve many of life’s greatest and most pressing mysteries, like why hotels typically close the “stoppers” in the sinks when servicing rooms. While that was perhaps my biggest hotel mystery for a long time, I have an airline mystery I just can’t crack.

While non-US carriers generally have significantly better products than US carriers, there’s one thing US airlines have going for them: the consistent presence of individual air nozzles at seats.

If you’ve flown first class on many Asian or European airlines you may have woken up in the middle of a flight thinking you were in a sauna. Typically I’ve had luck asking the crew to turn the temperature down, at least when in first class. But even so, the adjustment is typically minor.

Japan-Airlines-First-Class-40

Not only do US carriers typically keep their cabins a bit cooler, but they also consistently have individual air nozzles, which I find to make a huge difference. No, they’re not actually directly providing cold air, but I find the circulation of air helps to prevent me from sweating.

Finnair-Business-Class-A340 - 14

What I can’t figure out is why so many non-US airlines don’t have these at their seats? It’s a bit puzzling, because often these are the airlines that invest the most in the customer experience, but they don’t bother installing air nozzles.

While I know that in Europe, for example, there are a lot more places without air conditioning, I can’t wrap my head around the lack of air nozzles on their planes.

Does anyone have a guess as to why so many of the world’s best airlines don’t have air nozzles at individual seats? And do you value them as much as I do?

Comments

  1. You are right … and one of my biggest pet peeves.

    I love flying LF in First Class. But before I even board, I know I am going to be hot. Therefore, I never use their PJs (altho I take them with me to donate to a homeless shelter), but I pack my own t-shirt and shorts in which to sleep. Nevertheless, it is frustrating to be so warm. When I ask, they sometimes will turn down the temps — but conversely, there might be passengers who like it warm. As it is, I always sleep on top of the comforter (and sometimes wake up when the FA tries to cover me!).

    My theory is …. turn down the temp for the lowest common denominator: those who like it cool. Then, those who like it warm can snuggle up under the comforter!

  2. I think even outside the US narrowbodies almost always have air vents, I can’t recall ever being on one that didn’t, though I might be forgetting. But many non-US-based widebodies don’t.

    I have heard that part of the reason for the air vent is that it can be calming to people who panic due to turbulence / airsickness / other flying nervousness, and larger airplanes offer a smoother ride so those disturbances are somewhat less likely. But that doesn’t explain why US airlines would still decide to invest in the air vents.

  3. From an engineering student’s (myself) perspective: Having to add ventilation through the top of the cabin is an immense cost and likely adds weight. Since they fly short-haul less, profitable flights in Europe they’re trying to save every Euro cent.

    Building onto that idea, you need to force the air through the separate ventilation system which requires more power to force said air. More power = more cost. Again, this is my guess. Try calling Boeing or Airbus sales line perhaps?

  4. @Eugene, every airplane of european LCC like Ryanair, Easyjet and Vueling has individual air nozzles for every seat on the plane. We are talking about 160-200 nozzles on a single narrowbody plane. So it can’t be a matter of weight or money.

    Anyway always tought that it must be easier to install them in economy class in the overhead compartment where seats have more standard placements than on the more customized business or first class seat.

  5. I would expect it’s a cost and weight saving (fuel cost).

    Those airlines that invest a lot in pax ex are also pretty ruthless at negotiating the best price for their aircraft and that system probably costs extra.

  6. Just go to Amazon, search for USB fan, and pick up a fan with a gooseneck. I’ve carried one of these in my bag for the last 10 years or longer, it’s a great way to get some air moving. Plus now that many seats have a USB power source it’s even easier.

  7. Flew a DFW-SNA flight last month that had straight hot air coming through the air nozzle. I was ROASTING on the flight. Conveniently as soon as we landed they turned the AC on.

    I definitely like having the option to have air v to air nozzle at all, as long as the air is cool.

  8. Thank you addressing this question! We just flew HND-SFO on JAL in biz and were roasting the entire time. But I love the idea of a USB fan, thanks Sice!

  9. Weight and cost (both fuel and maintenance) are likely the two key factors. I suspect culture is also part of it – in the US, we climate control almost everywhere. It is simply expected. That isnt the case elsewhere. Human factors may also play a part (calming effect on passengers) – but again, that ties back into culture, given that people in the US fly a lot more than many other places in the world, so we tend to spend more time on airplanes.

  10. I think it’s a cultural thing. As a general observation Americans tend to have AC set much lower than, say, Europeans and always take drinks with ice. So it must be that cool equates to comfort.

    That said, I also hate that I’m sweating in premium cabins on LH etc…

  11. @ Ben — Now combine the closed sink drain mystery with the air nozzle mystery, and we get another mystery I’ve been wanting to ask about…why are all of the air nozzles typically closed upon boarding?

  12. It seems to be a widebody thing not to have the vents. My guess is because of the higher bins in newer widebodies, the nozzles couldn’t be reached from your seat. Any 777, 787, or A380 I’ve flown doesn’t have nozzles. I’ve never flown a 737 or A320-series that didn’t have nozzles, regardless of geographic location.

  13. I work in the aerospace industry and just asked a colleague of mine who used to work in a division that manufactures the majority of these in the world. It does not necessarily come down to a cost and weight perspective, or even complexity as there still will be always be PSU of sorts installed in the premium cabins, but it will only be for the emergency oxygen.

    There are two factors that seem to be the main cause of airlines not choosing to install them, firstly the standard units are usually configured and sold as a single unit with ventilation AND lighting, as most BC/FC seats are equipped with personal reading lights it is seen as unnecessary to have a unit with lighting. Secondly on wide-bodies the majority of the time they are not easily reachable to adjust the airflow, paired with the fact that many carriers choose to remove the center bins to create a more open space, which would mean they’d be at ceiling height. So it is down to the crew to regulate the temperature and airflow of that space.

  14. It’s definitely a cultural thing. We Americans are usually bigger, and with more body fat, and tend to like temperature cooler. For rest of the world, a warmer temperature is preferred, though it does mean suffering when we Americans fly foreign airlines, first class or economy.

    Also blowing cold air onto the face is not always considered healthy. For my Asian family, the thought of blowing air onto the face is about as welcome as someone coughing onto your face. They think the cold air is bad for you, and will likely give you headaches.

  15. For me it’s not just heat/temperature but also motion sickness. Without those vents oh -man- do I get sick on a plane- it just exacerbates a feeling of dizziness. With vents, however, I’m sound as a pound.

    I’ve since invested in a portable fan I keep with me and it solves the problem, otherwise even Etihad’s lovely A380 apartments are unbearable.

  16. Good question. This is one of my biggest pet peeves: no individual air nozzles, especially when the cabin is hot. Simple airflow is sooo effective in cooling and making the ride comfortable. But that concept seems to be lost on some airlines.

  17. I prefer not to use them probably because as a child I flew with my parents on flights when they still allowed smoking and the air generally stunk and the nozzle air was basically cold stinky fumes. Maybe the reason is the perception of germs being spread through these systems whether true or not. I only use them if I’m sweating.

    What I find strange is many wide body flights with air too cold or too hot. Last month on a 763 from MXP to JFK I thought I would freeze to death. I have literally walked from front to back of planes and felt the range of hot, cold and comfortable. Usually it’s warmer in the first cabin which makes it more difficult for sleep IMO.

  18. @lucky, it seems that the individual air nozzles you are referring to are called ‘gaspers’. Their air is typically supplied by aircraft engine compressors (but can be outside air from the air-conditioning system, recirculated air, or air from the mixing plenum…on some aircraft their is a separate gasper fan for circulation). A switch in the cockpit can turn the gaspers on and off (outside of passenger control).

    Gaspers are a part of the larger PSU system (passenger service units) that include the seat belt signs, call buttons, etc and are manufactured by companies like B/E Aerospace as part of an aircraft interior package. I agree with @Eugene that $$$ and weight are the main reasons for eliminating them……

  19. I’m not sure I buy the cultural angle. CX cabins can get toasty from time to time and Hong Kongers LOVE blasting air conditioning. So much so that I often bring a light jacket or sweater along if I’m going to meet someone at a mall or restaurant.

  20. My entire family hates air nozzles. I dunno about you guys but once on a 15.5ish hour flight on UA economy we froze. The air got way way too cold.

  21. Agreed; cabins are far too hot.

    I flew DXB / IAH in Emirates First a few weeks ago and the cabin was so hot I spent an hour or so sitting on the stairs … they couldn’t quite figure out what to do with me. I was actually fine with an hour’s respite from their extraordinary service, but they weren’t so sure about a First Class passenger sitting on the stairs.

    In the end they turned the heat down to a slightly winter-Emirate temperature. The odd thing was, though, that I was the only passenger in the cabin, and had I wanted ice to form on my beard it woud not have bothered a soul.

  22. Just came across this on Seat Guru about JAL: “This Boeing 787-800 (788) seats 186 passengers and is primarily used on International routes. Japan Airlines is the first airline to operate the Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner service to and from North America. The cabin has been updated with the latest features and amenities including larger overhead bins and windows, dimmable shades, higher ceilings, lower cabin pressure, personal ventilation air vents above each seat…..”

  23. Keeping in the temperature cool is better because those who are cold can just put on a sweater or blanket. That said, I’ve had a lot of recent UA transcons with Arctic cabins. Too much of a good thing can be bad.

  24. They removed them because … we Europeans, first thing we do when boarding is closing those horrible noisy blowing things! 🙂
    No seriously, it must be a cultural thing or something because to us , Americans doesn’t seem capable of using A/C in a “reasonable” way, making it like when going outside a store, restaurant, from a fridge into a sauna … or the other way around… too big contrast

  25. So, before this question can be answered it is important to understand the way aircraft air conditioning/heating works. The ECS (environmental control system) on all modern jet aircraft with the exception of the 787 is supplied with bleed air from one of the compressor stages of the engine. Since this air is compressed, and compression results in heat, the air is fed through an air cooler near the engine and then sent to the air cycle machine or “pack.” In the pack the air is sent through a series of heat exchangers and turbines that use the force of the air along with ambient air to cool it without the use of a chemical refrigerant. Thanks to the physics involved with extracting work from a fluid in motion (in this case the fluid is air), the air can be much cooler than ambient when it leaves the ECS. If you have ever drained an air compressor tank (or even an aerosol can) rapidly you have experienced this effect – the can/tank gets cold enough to form ice at the outlet even on a hot day. In order to achieve the desired temperature, hot compressed air is fed back into the system downstream from the ECS and in flight, ram air collected from an exterior duct(s) into the cabin. The temperature of the cabin is determined by the final mixed amount of ram, cooled, and bleed air entering the final cabin air handling system, which can be adjusted by the flight deck or cabin crew. Newer aircraft have temperature ‘zones’ but I question the actual effectiveness of this as there are only so many packs and they all more or less have to work together so adjusting the temperature in first class will also have an effect on the nearest cabin.

    All of the suggestions bandied about above have merit – weight, maintenance, cultural, accessibility, etc. Manufacturers design their planes to have adequate air circulation with or without the ‘gaspers’, as they are a customer option. Although you would have to ask the individual airlines why they chose not to install them, my suspicion is that it is largely a combination of the above suggestions from others: The farther the gasper is from the passenger, the higher the air pressure behind the gasper needs to be to make it effective. Think of it like putting a small tabletop fan across the room from you – you’re hardly going to feel a thing. Compound this with the fact the system is interconnected and the more gaspers that are open the lower the air pressure will be at each of them (to some extent this depends on the overall system design). The ducting system does add weight and maintenance demands to the aircraft. And, yes, Americans are used to air conditioning everywhere and we may take it just a little bit for granted.

    I also suspect in some cases the first class suites are impeding the normal flow of air through the area, exacerbating the problem. Bearing in mind that final configuration of the cabin is not done by the manufacturer, you’re essentially putting walls where the plane was possibly designed to have a more open area. If I put even half a new wall in my living room I wouldn’t expect my home HVAC to circulate air properly anymore.

    Lastly, air temperature is extremely subjective based on the person. I’ve worked for Amtrak for the past 12 years and I have had many cases where I have simultaneously received complaints about the same car being both too hot and too cold from different passengers. Our HVAC systems on the train are generally set to 73-76F, erring on the cool side. If I were an airline I would do the same – passengers can always add layers assuming they were smart enough to not wear shorts and sandals but there are only so many layers you want them to remove in such a public place… although I am sure we have all had flights with at least a few passengers (or crew) that we wouldn’t mind seeing in the buff! 😉

  26. Perspectives. I find the US-based airlines difficult because it’s absolutely freezing on board, and I have to wear extra layers of clothing and/or ask for extra blankets to have any chance of sleeping. Conversely, I sleep wonderfully on Asian and European airlines, because they get the temperature just right.

  27. My beef is with hotel rooms that don’t have a sink stopper at all, or one that opens as soon as you release the lever that closes it. Have you ever tried to wash underwear and socks in a sink that won’t stay full? You come back from dinner and find your personal items are a wet blob in an empty sink with some soap bubbles on top.

  28. One of the reasons I favour Emirates First is the 2 air nozzles each seat has (but there seems to be a combined strength so you have to choose one to be your main one). Find the cabin generally to be a reasonable warmth apart from one flight which was as hot as Hell.

  29. Many of my rental cars have heated and chilled/AIR CONDITIONED seats.

    It’s mind boggling that no airline has individual heating/cooling in business/first/suites class. I’d LOVE this type of seating in first or business class.

  30. On at least the Airbus A320 through A340 the temperature is controlled by a knob on the flight deck, although I am sure the FA control panel also has an option to override the flightdeck selection.

  31. While this did not directly answer your question, I spoke to the crew on a recent LH F flight about the temperature and they explained to me that when they turn the temperature down and close the curtains between row 1 and the forward galley, it gets uncomfortably cold in the galley. So, despite keeping the temperature cold but just warm enough for them to “deal with it”, at that same temperature setting, the F cabin feels very warm. The only way to keep the F cabin comfortable with the curtain closed is for them to freeze up front. Of course the solution is to open the curtain, but the light from the galley then becomes problematic for passengers. Ultimate first world problem, but a USB fan and sleeping on top of the comforter is probably the way to go!

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