Some of us have an odd sort of love-hate relationship with travel. Here’s the thing: experiencing different countries and cultures, ticking off bucket list attractions and such can be a life-changing, incomparable experience. There’s just one snag, though, and it’s an obvious one: you've got to get there.
I’m one of those who has always had a bit of an issue with that. As a child, I loved being somewhere new, but going there? The journey itself? That was a different matter entirely.
Travel sickness was the scourge of my childhood, and those traumatic and vomit-y memories left a mark. Interesting, the mode of transportation that seemed to affect me the most was the airplane.
It’s the whole experience. There’s the super-early taxi trip to the airport (3:35am? What the heckola is that? that’s not even a time!) the lengthy and nerve-wracking wait at the airport, more waiting around, finally boarding, the juddering take-off… it was an all-round bad time for me as a child.
I’m much more comfortable with the whole thing now, though. I don’t revel in the experience, but it’s a moderately comfortable means to a very important end.
If you’re also in two minds about your feelings on flying, this one’s for you. Some uncomfortable facts (the amount of germs making close friends with your ears, nose and throat at 30,000 feet, the dangers of updrafts), tempered by some totally reassuring ones (just how safe flying actually is, the reduction in the cost of flights). Enjoy!
25 OFF-PUTTING: It’s Germs-Amundo Around Here
If there’s one concern that germaphobes will always raise about flying, it’s the idea that all manner of germs are circulating around and around and around. It’s just far too easy for infections to spread on a plane. It’s like an all-you-can-sneeze-on buffet for anyone who’s unwell.
As The Telegraph reassuringly puts it, those in aisle and middle seats are most at risk, but “if you are seated within a row or two seats of an infected passenger you have an 80 percent chance of catching a bug no matter which type of seat you are in.”
Do you like those odds? Because I sure as heckles don’t.
24 OFF-PUTTING: Takeoff And Landing Are Darn Dangerous Times
As anyone who has mixed feelings about the whole experience of flying will tell you, taking off and landing are probably the two most nerve-wracking times of the flight. They’re the bumpiest, the noisiest, the times that your questionable airline food is most likely to want to make a bid for freedom from your stomach (well, that’s more landing-specific).
As Travel + Leisure explains, they’re also the most dangerous parts of the flight:
“…these stages — takeoff, initial climb, final approach, and landing — are known as the “plus three minus eight” rule… [it’s] estimated that 80 percent of all plane crashes happen within the first three minutes of a flight or in the last eight minutes before landing."
So, there. That’s sure to make us all feel much better.
23 REASSURING: The Safest Way To Travel?
As damning as all of that takeoff and landing business makes things sound, as many harrowing documentaries about accidents that TV stations love to show, it’s not all bad. It really isn’t. The fact of the matter is, flying is one of the safest modes of transportation out there.
David Ropeik, a Harvard University risk communication instructor, has calculated that the chance of losing a life in a car accident is around one in 5,000. The same risk on a flight? Around one in 11,000,000. Airplanes are just getting safer, too, with fatal accidents occurring only once every two million flights (compared to every 200,000 in the 50s and 60s).
22 OFF-PUTTING: Superbugs? Oh, Super
So, yes. We’ve already touched on the fact that flights can be a difficult concept for germaphobes. With the sheer number of people taking to the skies now, and the hurrying to herd them on board as quickly as possible, a thorough Lysol-ing of every darn surface can be an impossibility.
The Deb Group Blog has some alarming news on that score: Research by the Auburn University has concluded that “disease-causing bacteria can linger on surfaces in commercial airplane cabins for up to a week!”
We’re not just talking any old bacteria, but notorious superbugs like MRSA. Parts of old Delta airplanes were used for the study, and “bacteria was applied to their surfaces including those that mimicked human saliva and sweat… MRSA survived the longest—168 hours—on material from the seat-back pocket, while E. coli O157:H7 lived for 96 hours on the material from the armrest.” Lovely.
21 OFF-PUTTING: The Mystery Of The Black Box
The flight recorder --or ‘black box’-- is one of those mysterious elements of a flight that most of us don’t really know about. Considering its purpose (to aid in the investigation of accidents), it’s probably best that we don’t dwell too hard on the whole thing.
The fact that they’re actually bright orange, so as to be more easily found and salvaged, isn’t all that encouraging as it is. There’s also the unfortunate truth that, “contrary to popular belief, the small box is destructible if it comes under the heavy wings of the plane or is exposed to the extreme heat of the plane's fuel.”
Is there nothing we can trust up there at 30,000 feet?
20 REASSURING: About Those Germs…
I know that I’ve already painted quite a bleak picture of the bacteria situation on a plane, but it’s not as dire as you may think. There’s a popular idea that, as I say, the germs from that guy who sneezed halfway across the Atlantic are still being recycled in your face as you land in London, but it’s not as simple as that.
As reported by LifeHacker, “only some of the air in a plane’s cabin is recycled. Even then it’s only about half of the air, and it’s filtered 20-30 times an hour with HEPA filters that are similar to what you’d find in a hospital’s ICU. The other half of the cabin air is being replaced every two to three minutes with the plane’s built-in air supply system. So, your office, home, or local coffee shop is [stuffier] than an airplane.”
There you go, then. You can literally breathe easy.
19 OFF-PUTTING: Updrafts Do *NOT* Sound Like A Good Time
Homer Simpson may have liked the idea of “soaring majestically, like a candy wrapper caught in an updraft,” but it turns out that an updraft is not a phenomenon you want to inspect at close quarters.
Turbulence doesn’t tend to be the super-dangerous case it’s sometimes thought to be (more on that later), but according to AOL, “an updraft is a completely different story. It is difficult to detect an updraft on night radar. Hitting these violent winds at high speed can throw a plane up and down hard, and even spin a plane out of control.”
Well, that’s encouraging.
18 OFF-PUTTING: Airline Food? No Thanks
Much like hospital food, airline food certainly has an unfortunate reputation. This isn’t just a question of the price (although, like at the movie theater, they can charge you whatever the heckola they want because they’ve got you over a barrel), but a matter of the meals themselves.
Later, we’ll take a look at the mysterious things that happen to our taste buds on flights. Before that, though, it’s not entirely encouraging to learn that pilots and their co-pilots are required by most airlines to eat entirely separate food to the rest of us. The implications of that aren’t really much fun to think about.
17 REASSURING: It’s Always A Good Idea To Have A Backup
As online gamers and basically anybody who use technology much will know, backups can be crucial. It’s one of those things that you don’t always appreciate until your laptop, tablet or console goes kaput.
Losing a save file in a video game is one thing, but a plane suddenly plummeting through the sky after a technical failure is a little higher on the emergency-o-meter.
Luckily, as reported by Reader’s Digest, “Ninety-six percent of jetliners Boeing delivers today are twinjets, meaning they have two engines. These planes can fly on only one engine for extended periods of time, and fly on routes laid out to keep them within a safe distance of an airport at all times, should one fail. The probability of both engines failing at the same time is less than one in a billion hours of flight.”
16 OFF-PUTTING: Some Of Us Are Safer Than Others
That’s right, friends. As we’ve already seen, the window seat is your best bet in terms of avoiding catching whatever that guy opposite with the chesty cough has. We’re not talking about the chances of catching the flu on your way back from the Bahamas here, though, but a different kind of safety entirely.
As reported by The Telegraph, certain seats on an aircraft are safer than others. A Channel 4 documentary charmingly named The Crash saw an aircraft full of crash test dummies (complete with breakable ‘bones’) intentionally crashed into Mexico’s Sonoran desert.
The experiment found that the generally-more-expensive seats in the first eleven rows were torn away entirely, with precious little chance for any of the dummies to have ‘survived.’ Meanwhile, “78 percent of the other passengers would have, with the chance of survival increasing the closer they were sitting to the rear of the aircraft.”
15 OFF-PUTTING: Lightning Strikes Twice (And Many More Times After That)
There are certain things that frequent fliers take for granted. They’re just part of the whole experience, part of the routine. Those who rarely travel by plane and those who are super nervous about it wouldn’t understand that, though.
Lightning strikes hitting planes in flight is a common occurrence. We’re all likely to have mixed feelings about this fact, but there it is. According to AOL, it’s estimated that every commercial fleet in the U.S is hit by lightning at least once annually.
Needless to say, if you’re afraid of flying and thunderstorms, this is just about the most frightening fact I could possibly have dropped on you. You’re welcome.
14 REASSURING: Don’t Be Too Scared Of That Lightning, Though
So, I may have traumatised you right off this page with that lightning talk, but listen for a moment. Take a deep breath, have a lie down and some comfort chocolate and then let’s get to the redeeming factor of that whole situation.
For the most part, those lightning strikes are completely harmless. AOL reassures us, “Don't panic. Planes are built to take it. If lightning strikes while you're on-board, the worst that will usually happen is just a bright flash and a loud boom.”
Now, neither bright flashes nor loud booms are anything I want to experience while on a flight, but that’s good to know nonetheless.
13 OFF-PUTTING: Sometimes, Planes Collide With Alligators
That’s right, friends. As we try to dismiss the super unpleasant image that conjures up, it’s story time. You thought unfortunate things can happen to birds that happen to blunder into the path of planes? Well, you’re right, but we’re going way beyond that with this one.
In Insider’s collection of (purportedly) true stories from flight attendants, KFLYNN1337 tells the tale of a flight to Miami that was just landing when “the front nose gear hit a 12ft long 'gator on the runway.”
What happened next? Well, apparently:
"The front tires blew out, dumping the plane about a foot, as per training the pilots slammed on the brakes but by this point, the 'gator had achieved oneness with the front wheel, and the brakes engaged hard, and the wheel assembly just sort of snapped off ... Long story short, the plane skidded the last 100 yards or so on its nose. At which point, shaken and her brain was sort of on auto-pilot she said over the intercom: 'Welcome to Florida! Mind where you step.' The whole plane burst out laughing."
12 OFF-PUTTING: It’s Pretty… Turbulent Up There
As I’ve already mentioned, turbulence can be super, super unsettling for nervous flyers. And those whose stomachs tend not to hold onto their contents very well. We can be thankful that we’re not dealing with updrafts, sure, but turbulence is an ever-present and frightening threat too.
Coupled with this, it’s also important to point out that turbulence is becoming ever more common, with the dramatically-increased air traffic (and regular vehicle traffic) contributing to a buildup of carbon dioxide in the air. The only positive to be drawn from this is that turbulence isn’t a major threat, as we’re about to see.
11 REASSURING: But That Turbulence Isn’t Really Anything To Worry About
As is the case with lightning strikes, turbulence on flights in certainly unsettling and uncomfortable. It’s just a fact of life up at 30,000 feet, though, and really isn’t a danger in the vast majority of cases.
“Conditions might be annoying and uncomfortable, but the plane is not going to crash. Turbulence is an aggravating nuisance for everybody, including the crew, but it’s also, for lack of a better term, normal.”
It may not feel that way when your mineral water is desperately trying to jump out of its glass and into the face of the guy in the row opposite, but there it is. You’ve just got to grit your teeth and wait it out.
10 OFF-PUTTING: The Perils Of Cellphones
As I say, I’ve been flying for some decades now. Back in the day, when cell phones were about the size of house bricks and Snake was the height of mobile gaming, we were told in no uncertain terms that mobile phones cannot be used on flights.
This was relentlessly drummed into us, and that left an impression on me. Your Life Choices, the voice of reason, states “mobile phones are more of an annoyance for pilots than anything else. As anyone who’s ever accidentally left their phone on clearly knows, they won’t bring a plane down,” but for some of us, it was as bad a crime as your phone belting out La Cucaracha in the middle of a crowded movie theater.
9 OFF-PUTTING: Officially Cutting Corners With Fuel
Now, say you’re on a perfectly smooth flight. There’s nary a hint of turbulence anywhere, your backpack isn’t about to come flying out of the overhead bin and hit that businessman from Chile in the nose, it’s a good time all around.
Even without any of those worries, there’s something else to think about. What’s the plane’s fuel situation like?
In recent years, reports such as this one have suggested that airlines have been cutting the amount of fuel their planes carry, so as to reduce costs. There’s a delicate balance between doing so safely and endangering the flights in the process, in the case of emergency detours and such.
8 REASSURING: Economy Seats Aren’t Always Something To Complain About
No, this image is not of an economy seat, but stick with me on this. They're getting better and better.
As my dear old dad always says, you get what you pay for. In today’s economic climate, everybody wants to do what they’re doing and get where they’re going as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Sometimes, of course, this means foregoing some of that comfort, but it doesn’t always have to.
As Traveller reported back in 2015, Boeing 787 Dreamliners flying Australian routes are offering a new standard in ‘cheap seats.’ They boasted “larger windows and comfier seats. There's also less engine noise, in-seat power and better cabin air quality throughout. And being faster and less fuel hungry than rival aircraft ostensibly means cheaper fares for all.”
As the competition continues to ramp up, airlines are having to step up their game in this regard.
7 OFF-PUTTING: Privacy In The Bathroom? Not On Airplanes
Yep, I know. I hear you, friends. Calling the facilities on planes a ‘bathroom’ is being a little generous. It’s more of a teeny toilet with a sink from a Hobbit’s house squeezed in next to the door. Heck, it does the job though. Let’s not question it.
All of that aside, plane bathrooms have a curious feature that you may not be aware of: They unlock from the outside.
Your Life Choices explains that “the lock mechanism is hidden behind the ‘no smoking’ sign.” It’s all to do with safety and suchlike, naturally, but there’s something just a little unsettling about that.
6 OFF-PUTTING: Don’t Worry, The Pilot’s Just Taking A Quick Nap
Generally speaking, sleeping on the job isn’t acceptable in most walks of life. Unless, you know, you’re a bed tester or something (if you are, incidentally, definitely @ me and let me know how you got that job so I can hope straight on that gravy train).
Pilots, however, face a physical and emotional strain like few other professions. The long hours, the constant hopping between time zones… it’s pretty darn rough. As a result, it’s reported, it’s very common for pilots to fall asleep at the wheel. Over half have done so.
There’s a lot going on here, with regards to the logistics of flying an airplane, but we can all agree that this sure does sound a little frightening.