Flight Secrets That Are Never Told To Passengers
Flying is one of the most common ways to travel, transporting millions of passengers around the world every day. But despite the frequency with which many of us take to the skies, there are countless behind-the-scenes details that the average passenger never learns about. Some of these are harmless fun facts, while others might change the way you think about flying altogether. Here are some of the best-kept secrets in the world of commercial aviation.
Dimming the Lights Isn’t Just for Ambiance: If you’ve flown at night, you’ve probably noticed the cabin lights dim during takeoff and landing. This isn’t to set a mood but rather a safety precaution. In the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, your eyes will already be adjusted to the darkness, allowing you to exit the plane more efficiently.
Tiny Hole in Airplane Windows: Those little holes in the airplane windows, known as bleed holes, aren’t a manufacturing defect. They’re there to regulate pressure. The outermost layer withstands the pressure, while the tiny hole ensures that only the outer pane takes the force, preventing potential window blowouts.
Pilot Meals: Pilots and co-pilots are usually given different meals to ensure that they both don’t end up with food poisoning. The last thing a flight needs is for both of its pilots to be incapacitated.
“Mobile Phones Off” Isn’t About Interference: The primary reason airlines ask you to switch off your mobile phones or put them in ‘airplane mode’ isn’t due to potential interference with the aircraft’s equipment. It’s more about ensuring passengers pay attention during safety demonstrations and preventing potential distractions during critical phases of the flight, like take-off and landing.
Water Tanks Aren’t Always Clean: It’s a sad reality, but the tanks that hold the water used for making coffee and tea on planes aren’t cleaned as often as you’d hope. It might be a safer bet to opt for bottled water instead.
Handles by the Exit Door: Ever noticed those rubber or plastic handles by the plane’s exit doors? They are there for the flight attendants. In case of an emergency where they might have to open the door, panicking passengers rushing to the exit won’t push them out of the way.
Locked Restrooms from the Outside: For security reasons, flight attendants can unlock the lavatory doors from the outside. This feature ensures that if someone is causing problems or is locked inside, crew members can access the restroom.
Planes Aren’t as Fresh as You Think: Some parts of a plane can be much older than you’d expect. Airlines occasionally combine newer plane parts with older ones, a practice called ‘life extension’. This process can save money and resources, and it’s entirely safe as long as the plane undergoes regular safety checks.
The True Meaning of “Cross-Check”: When flight attendants announce they are performing a “cross-check,” they are verifying that the emergency slides attached to the exit doors are disarmed and won’t deploy when the doors are opened.
Secret Sleeping Compartments: On long-haul flights, there are often hidden compartments where the crew can rest. These bunk areas are usually tucked away behind the cockpit or above first class and offer a private space for flight attendants and pilots to get some shut-eye during long journeys.
Autopilot Capabilities: While pilots are indispensable to the safety and operation of the aircraft, modern planes can practically take off, fly, and land using their onboard computer systems. However, pilots are always alert and ready to take control, especially during unpredictable situations.
The Environmental Impact of Dumping Fuel: Occasionally, for various safety or technical reasons, a plane might need to dump fuel before landing. While this sounds environmentally harmful, the fuel is vaporized and doesn’t reach the ground in liquid form.
Freebies on Board: If you ask politely, many airlines offer additional freebies that aren’t publicized. This could include extra snacks, basic first-aid items, or even small toys or coloring books for kids.
Recycled Air Isn’t as Bad as Rumored: There’s a common myth that airplane air is stale and recirculated, increasing the chances of getting sick. In reality, modern airplanes mix fresh and recirculated air, and the air goes through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, similar to those used in hospitals.
Flight Attendants Have Quirky Communication: Those chimes you hear during a flight? They’re not random. Flight attendants use them to communicate with each other without using the intercom. Different chimes can signify things like turbulence warnings, seatbelt sign changes, or a message from the cockpit.
The world of commercial aviation is replete with fascinating tidbits and closely-guarded secrets. While most of these are mere curiosities, some serve critical safety functions. Understanding these nuances not only makes for fun conversation but can also enhance your appreciation for the miracle of flight and the professionals who make it possible.
Touch-and-Go Landings: In pilot training, a practice known as a “touch-and-go” landing is quite common. The plane touches down on the runway for a brief moment and then immediately takes off again without coming to a full stop. This exercise helps pilots practice their landing and immediate takeoff skills. If you ever see an airplane landing and then immediately taking off again, it might just be a pilot in training.
Ashtrays in Airplane Bathrooms: Despite smoking being banned on flights for decades, you might still find ashtrays in airplane lavatories. The reason? In case someone breaks the rules and decides to smoke, airlines would prefer they dispose of the cigarette safely in the ashtray rather than potentially causing a fire by discarding it in the trash bin.
Reinforced Cockpit Doors: Post the tragic events of 9/11, cockpit doors in commercial airplanes have been significantly reinforced to prevent unauthorized access. They’re designed to withstand bullets and even small explosions. This addition aims to ensure that pilots and the controls of the plane remain safe from potential threats.
Overselling Flights is Common Practice: Airlines often sell more tickets than there are seats on a plane, anticipating a certain number of no-show passengers. This practice, known as overselling, is a gamble. Sometimes everyone shows up, leading to those dreaded moments where the airline asks for volunteers to take a later flight.
Your Life Vest Might Be Missing: While it’s a rare occurrence, some mischievous passengers steal life vests from under their seats as souvenirs. Always check under your seat to ensure your life vest is there, especially if you’re on an over-water route.
The Real Reason Behind Upright Seats and Tray Tables: During takeoff and landing, having seats in the upright position and tray tables stowed ensures a clear path in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation. This is why flight attendants are so strict about this rule during these crucial phases of the flight.
Sky Marshals: Many flights, especially those with long durations or high-profile routes, have undercover security personnel or sky marshals onboard. They’re trained to handle a variety of situations, from unruly passengers to potential terrorist threats.
Landing Early Doesn’t Always Mean Exiting Early: Pilots can sometimes make up time in the air if a flight has been delayed, but landing ahead of schedule doesn’t always mean you’ll disembark early. The gate might be occupied by another plane, or ground crew might not be ready, resulting in passengers having to wait onboard.
Electronics and Navigation: While it’s extremely rare for personal electronics to interfere with a plane’s navigation system, it’s not impossible. This potential for interference, although minimal, is another reason passengers are asked to switch devices to airplane mode.
Pilots Are Always Planning for the Unexpected: Even if the weather is clear and the flight is going smoothly, pilots are continuously planning for potential emergency scenarios. They’re trained to think ahead, whether it’s considering alternate airports to land at or strategizing how to handle a sudden change in weather.
Air travel, for all its routine nature, is layered with complexities and intricacies known mostly to those who run the show. The next time you’re cruising at 35,000 feet, you can appreciate the symphony of decisions, design choices, and procedures at play, ensuring you reach your destination safely. From the coffee you drink to the seat you recline in, there’s a world of secrets and stories soaring with you. Safe travels!