Cocoa, chili and heated shelters: How airlines, airports are protecting workers from the extreme polar vortex temperatures

Hot chocolate, bowls of chili and temporary warming shelters are just some of the resources that airlines and airports are using to protect workers from the extreme temperatures that the deadly polar vortex has brought.

Thousands of flights across the U.S. have been canceled or delayed in recent days as dangerously low temperatures blanket large portions of the Midwest, South and East, prompting aviation officials to roll out all the stops to protect their hardworking staffers from the “life-threatening” extreme cold.

On Jan. 30, representatives for American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines told Fox News that the airlines are doing everything possible to keep their employees safe through the storm.

“Our focus is keeping our team members safe, who are working outside in this cold weather. We’ll have staffing at maximum levels to ensure we are able to rotate our team members who work outside more frequently; we’re ensuring everyone has proper uniform items as well as hand warmers, etc. and we’ll be providing hot coffee, tea, cocoa and chili around the clock,” a spokesman for American Airlines told Fox News.


Likewise, a Southwest spokesperson confirmed that they, too, will be initiating special winter operation procedures.

“Anytime temperatures fall below freezing levels, we initiate our winter operation procedures. Our primary focus is the Safety of our Customers and Employees. For our Teams that work outside, everyone is issued winter weather gear for their safety and are trained on our winter operations annually. The winter weather operations are vital to ensuring our Customers arrive at their destination safely,” the rep said.

Officials at United also said they also plan to constantly monitor the weather, and are taking all precautions at their Chicago hub.

“With safety as our top priority, we are significantly reducing our schedule at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)  through Thursday morning. We’ll continue to monitor the weather situation and make additional changes to the schedule based on the conditions at the time,” the United spokesperson said. “We encourage customers who are traveling to, from or through the Midwestern region to check the status of their flights before heading to the airport, as well as visit or see our mobile app for the latest updates and developments. Additionally, we have a waiver in place for customers traveling from, to and through O’Hare through Feb. 1.”

The rep also confirmed that United teams are preparing for extremely cold weather through the next few days by setting up temporary heated shelters at necessary airports so employees can spend the least amount of time in the extreme weather, moving equipment inside and away from the elements when possible, and partnering with local airport authorities to ensure that snow is removed from runways, taxiways and ramp areas.


The United rep continued to detail that ORD is specifically equipped with 67 de-icing trucks, and that the carrier has staffed up with temporary ramp workers to assist in rotating shifts, too.

As for major airports across the Midwest – a region which the polar vortex is blasting with the coldest temperatures in years – reps for ORD, Denver International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, and General Mitchell International Airport did not immediately return Fox News’ request for comment.

Reps for Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport and St. Louis Lambert International Airport declined to comment, and directed inquiry on the matter to the airlines.

According to local media, many smaller airports, too, are rolling out similar stops to keep their workers safe and warm, as best they can.

"It's really cold out there, the winds picking up, it's bitter. You know nothing on the airfield blocks the wind. It's full force against your body," Abe Weber, the director of Appleton International Airport in Outagamie County, Wis., told WBAY of the arctic winds.

"We've taken a vehicle, a bus and placed it out there as kind of a portable warming shelter. We have some hot chocolate on that, so in between flights if [the airport workers] only have a few minutes they can hop on there, warm themselves up, get something warm to drink and be back out there to work their next shift.”


Fox News’ Travis Fedschun and Amy Lieu contributed to this report.