Imagine you're flying to Los Angeles in February, but find yourself landing in Iqaluit instead, with a daily mean of −27.5°C, without considering the effect of wind. Even walking from the cabin to a runway bus may involve sufficient exposure to cause serious injury if passengers (and crew) are dressed for +20°C. Most intercontinental flights pass over high latitudes, so a high-latitude emergency landing can't be that exceptional.

Are airlines required to have contingency plans to keep passengers warm in such an event? There wouldn't be space to stock lots of bulky fur coats on a plane, but groundside there would be.

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    $\begingroup$ The passengers can just stay on the plane until a backup arrives. $\endgroup$ May 16, 2017 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanReez If the engines fail it wouldn't stay warm long on the plane either, I guess (this is why Swedish trains get cancelled when it's -40°C), and when it is -40°C, even transferring passengers from one plane to another requires protection from the elements. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    May 16, 2017 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ Not fur coats, but probably emergency blankets? (I have no idea, but I would expect them to have at least some.) $\endgroup$
    – skymningen
    May 16, 2017 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ There is some info on Wikipedia: The FAA's policy letter Guidance for Polar Operations (March 5, 2001) outlines a number of special requirements for polar flight, which includes two cold-weather suits, special communication capability, designation of Arctic diversion airports and firm recovery plans for stranded passengers, and fuel freeze strategy and monitoring requirements. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    May 16, 2017 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ It's not a problem for a short while $\endgroup$ May 17, 2017 at 1:47

2 Answers 2


Taking FAA/USA as an example.

For north of 78th parallel, FAA operations are conducted in compliance with several regulations, including: FSIMS 8900.1, vol 3, Chapter 18, Section 4 Part B Operations Specifications: OpSpec B055 - North Polar Operations. The alternate airports must be able to receive the passengers of the diverted aircraft and to take care of the "physiological needs of the passengers and flightcrew for the duration until safe evacuation".

B055 requires the operator to demonstrate a recovery plan to extract passengers from a diversion airport prior to conduct commercial passenger operations. While it's the operator responsibility to provide the details, the general requirement answers your question:

A recovery plan is required that will be initiated in the event of an unplanned diversion. The recovery plan should address the care and safety of passengers and flightcrew at the diversion airport, and include the plan of operation to extract the passengers and flightcrew from that airport.

As the plan should address the care and safety of people at the alternate airport, any protection against low temperature must be provided in order for the plan to be accepted by FAA. The plan must also demonstrate the ability to extract passenger from the airport within, if possible, 12h (which may be a challenge in Arctic region) and at most within 48h.

Extract of B055 (also discussed at PPRuNe, some copy-paste done from here):

Minimum Equipment List (MEL)

  • Before receiving FAA authority to conduct polar operations, the MEL must indicate that the following systems/equipment is required for polar operations dispatch:

    3) Communication system(s) relied on by the flightcrew to satisfy the requirement for effective communication capability.

    4) Except for all-cargo operations, expanded medical kit to include Automated External Defibrillators (AED).

Training Program Requirements

The following must be in the approved training programs:

  • Training on special considerations, such as diversion decision making into austere airport environments to include aircraft performance, crash, fire, and rescue availability, and passenger support; and

  • Flightcrew training in the use of the cold weather anti-exposure suit.

Special Flightcrew Issues for Long-Range Operations

The operator needs to address the following special long-range flightcrew issues:

  • A minimum of two cold weather anti-exposure suits will be required to be onboard so that outside coordination at a diversion airport with extreme climatic conditions can be accomplished safely.

Dispatch and Crewmember Considerations During Solar Flare Activity

  • The operator must be aware of the content of AC 120-52, Radiation Exposure of Air Carrier Crewmembers, and provide crewmember training as stated in AC120-61, Crewmember Training on In-Flight Radiation Exposure.

En Route Polar Diversion Alternate Airport Requirements

  • Operators are expected to give definition to a sufficient set of alternate airports for polar diversions, such that one or more can be reasonably expected to be available in varying weather conditions.

  • The flight must be able to make a safe landing, and the airplane maneuvered off of the runway at the selected diversion airport. In the event of a disabled airplane following landing, the capability to move the disabled airplane must exist so as not to block the operation of any recovery airplane.

    • In addition, those airports designated for use must be capable of protecting the safety of all personnel by being able to:

    • (1) Offload the passengers and flightcrew in a safe manner during possible adverse weather conditions;

    • (2) Provide for the physiological needs of the passengers and flightcrew for the duration until safe evacuation; and

    • (3) Be able to safely extract passengers and flightcrew as soon as possible (execution and completion of the recovery is expected within 12 to 48 hours following diversion).

Validation Flights

  • An FAA-observed validation flight is required in which the operator exercises its reaction and recovery plan in the event of a diversion to one of its designated en route polar diversion alternate airports. The exercise of the operator’s reaction and recovery plan may also be completed prior to the validation flight.
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    $\begingroup$ I believe this answer can be improved by making it shorter, i.e. keeping only elements directly related to the question, and offering a link to readers who are interested for more. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    May 16, 2017 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ @kevin it is fine, the skimmers and TLDRers can go to a crash landing north of Iqaluit (nothing against Iqaluit). The problem with migrated questions is, they were tailored to a specific stack mindset, and then after migrated they are a poor fit on the host stack. mins errs on the side of completness, and that is not an err at all. $\endgroup$ May 16, 2017 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ @kevin, Mindwin: I agree with both comments, and removed some details. I can edit further (or you may also edit) if you have other ideas, or in case of OP's request for clarification. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    May 16, 2017 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ This answer seems almost entirely off-topic, since it is about regulations that apply north of 78°N, but Iqaluit is at only 64°N! A flight that doesn't get anywhere close to 78°N, and is not subject to any of those regulations, could still have to divert to a very cold place like Iqaluit. $\endgroup$
    – nanoman
    Mar 11, 2023 at 23:55

You've actually answered your own question in a way. It's the airport's responsibility to be able to operate in such conditions, including accepting diversions by accommodating all international air transport standards.

But, since such an event is extremely rare, there are certain things that have to be figured out on the ground, such as what to do when ambient temperatures are −27.5°C. Unless there is imminent danger, remaining on the aircraft is an option until a means to transfer passengers to the terminal is sorted.

In the case of LX40, Iqaluit receives regular passenger service so only the number of passengers is exceptional, not the conditions.

"But what if it's a blizzard?!" Such extreme conditions would make the landing itself unsafe so the crew would have to select another location.

Note: Since there is not explanation for the Downvotes, they should be treated as wrong and misleading. Ignore.

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    $\begingroup$ -30°C is not extremely rare at Iqaluit, and passengers planning to travel there will have planned for it. How rare are winter emergency landings at Arctic airports, that is a different question. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    May 16, 2017 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ I guess emergency landings at Iqaluit are rather rare. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    May 16, 2017 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ The airlines and manufacturers work very hard to make sure they are extremely rare. $\endgroup$
    – DTRT
    May 16, 2017 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Johns-305: The reason may also be a health problem with the crew or a passenger (e.g. heart attack). There are cases for both. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    May 17, 2017 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ Airports have a certain responsibility, but ultimately it is up to the airline to have recovery plans in place (which is the original question). For US flag carriers, it's one of the specific requirements for approval to operate in Arctic regions in the first place (see Mins' answer above). $\endgroup$
    – PHChilly
    May 18, 2017 at 14:26

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