Thomas L. Petty, M.D.

Professor of Medicine, 
University of Colorado

Chairman, National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP)

Air Travel, Hair Dryers and Modern Technology 

December 2000
Second Wind
Lomita, California

  Dear Friends:

  Recently, I was comfortably seated on a 737 jet, en route to Sacramento to give an evening lecture to a group of pulmonary doctors. I purposefully booked a flight that was scheduled to arrived several hours before my presentation. When we did not leave on time (the airline will remain nameless to avoid any backlash), I suspected something was wrong. Then I heard from the cabin attendant that a small window in the galley was fogged. How could a fogged window affect the aircraft function, I wondered? Certainly, the Captain did not need the galley window to guide his takeoff or landing. In a minute I began to understand. The Captain announced that a foggy window suggested a leak in the seal of the window, and this could affect cabin pressure.

  Then I heard the mechanic ask for a hair dryer to warm the window in an attempt to dissipate the fog. "You can't take off with foggy windows.", he said. How a hair dryer could fix a leaky seal, escaped me. After about 45 minutes, the Captain announced that the airplane was broken. Everyone had to deplane.

  Fortunately, the carrier found another aircraft and we were able to leave, only two hours late. After we took off, I asked if they had a hair dryer on board. No, they did not, but they did have an automatic defibrillator. It seemed ironic that a lowly hair dryer was used to try to fix the airplane, but the latest technology for the rare occurrence of a cardiac arrest was onboard.

  By the way, I arrived in time to give my lecture. Have an enjoyable holiday season. 

  I will be in touch next month.

 Your friend,

  Thomas Petty, MD

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Published: Jan 31 2002