Airplanes are mysterious machines, aren’t they? If you’re not scientifically inclined or experienced in the industry, you probably have absolutely zero clue how these great metallic monsters fly in the first place.
There’s no moment quite as painful as when your child asks you how an airplane flies, and you’re forced to answer with a vague well, it’s… something to do with wind… and stuff, before offering them ice cream for breakfast or something so as to divert attention from the topic.
I understand that this may just be me, but I’m really hoping it isn’t. I’m also still stuck on just how in heckola those enormous cruise ships manage to stay afloat, but that’s an impossible issue for another day.
Anyway, yes. Since the first time I boarded a plane at the tender age of twelve, I’ve been in awe of these contraptions. Even today, almost twenty years later, I’m surprised and totally frightened about how little laypeople know about them (and the flights they take us all on).
Today, we’re going to lift the lid on some of these airline mysteries. Have you ever wondered which are pilots' most hated airports? Why the flight crew hates serving diet coke? What exactly has been on that tray table you’re currently eating from? You’d better buckle up for this one. It’s going to be an interesting, worrying and unpleasant ride, and the seatbelt sign’s going to be illuminated throughout.
25 Dirty Diapers On The Tray Tables? Lovely
That’s right, friends. We’re kicking this party off the right way, with a little revelation that completely proves the old adage that you should be careful what you wish for.
As reported by The Huffington Post, a Redditor reached out to experienced flyers and flight crew, asking for some of the dirt about airplanes and flights. And dirt was exactly what we got.
According to flight attendant @Melhow44, “if you have ever spread your peanuts on your tray and eaten, or really just touched your tray at all, you have more than likely ingested baby poo. I saw more dirty diapers laid out on those trays than food.”
24 Everything’s Fine, The Pilot’s Just Taking A Nap
Now, if you’ve ever been in the cockpit of an airplane, you’ll surely have noticed something: goshdarnit, there are a lot of levers, screens, buttons and dials in there. To the untrained eye, it’s like staring at freaking NASA mission control.
It’s a super-responsible and super-draining business being a pilot, there’s no doubt about that. It’s a little alarming, then, to learn that a study taken as a ‘fatigue barometer’ in association with the European Cockpit Association (which asked around 6,000 pilots from eight countries) discovered that “more than four in ten British pilots admit to having fallen asleep at the controls of a passenger jet.”
Not only that, but “A third of these said they had even woken to find their co-pilot was also asleep.”
23 Do *NOT* Drink The Water
I know what you’re thinking. Generally, when we’re flying off on exotic vacations to far-flung places, this rule doesn’t kick in until you actually arrive there. With some of this information in mind, though, it might be best to start that don’t drink the water rule until you step on the plane out.
In 2002, The Wall Street Journal performed studies on the tap water from 14 different flights. They concluded that the amounts of bacteria in the water were “tens, sometimes hundreds of times above U.S. government limits.”
Is this all part of their nefarious plot to sell more of their overpriced bottled water? Perhaps so, but you don’t want to risk contracting the poopie-doopies before you’ve even arrived at your destination, do you?
22 Definitely Don’t Drink Diet Coke, Either
I don’t know about you, friends, but I’ve always been a little suspicious of Diet Coke. It purports to be the ‘healthy option’ by doing away with all that sugar, but what kind of unnatural chemical concoction has it replaced that sugar with, exactly? I sleep better at night when I don’t question these issues.
The flight crew, meanwhile, have a much smoother job serving everybody when you don’t order Diet Coke. Why’s that? Well, as Boredom Therapy explains, it’s the most awkward beverage for them to serve: “Because of the extreme amount of carbonation and the plane’s altitude, the liquid takes about three times as long to settle in the cup. This significantly cuts into the attendants’ service time.”
21 Clinging On For Dear Life
Back to The Huffington Post/Reddit’s collection of alarming airline secrets from industry insiders, here’s another doozy.
Observant fliers will surely have noticed those handles near the door (not those ones, the other ones). What are they for? Well, like several things on airplanes, they have a slightly worrying secret purpose: to prevent staff getting trampled in the event of an emergency evacuation.
According to George Hobica, “Correct, they're grab handles, but why? Well, in a panicked emergency evacuation, when the flight attendants are manning the exit door, passengers, in their mad rush to get off, have a tendency to push them out of the way, sometimes all the way down the slide. The handles are there to make sure that the flight attendants stay on the plane if that's what they need to do."
20 Worst. Airports. Ever.
Whether you’re a pilot, a bus driver or anyone else whose job is to get people to places, you’re going to have routes that you much prefer to others. That just comes with the territory. The seasoned travellers among us have probably passed through a whole range of airports in our lives, but which do you think would be a pilot’s least favourite?
In terms of the U.S, TripSavvy reports, it’s got to be John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. This is because both airports have prohibitive rules about noise restriction, which makes landing and taking off a convoluted process. Short runways at both airports also mean speedier and more challenging take-offs.
19 Sizing Us Up
Whether it’s your first flight or your hundredth, there’s one thing that you can’t fail to notice about your experience: the staff’s cheery demeanours (well, that’s the idea, at any rate). As you enter the aircraft, they’ll greet you in a little line, erupting with enthusiasm; like you’re Kanye West or somebody and they’re fawning fans.
You might think this is super nice and reassuring. You might also think it’s the standard sort of PR protocol for anybody who works face-to-face with customers. According to Boredom Therapy, though, it’s something a little more insidious than that: “Even though it looks like they’re being nice, they’re actually giving each passenger a visual inspection to see who might potentially be a problem during the flight.”
18 The Captain *IS* The Law
That is to say, they kind of are, but they’re not really, but they actually are. Stick with me on this one.
Now, you may have heard that pilots have the authority to arrest unruly passengers and other such things. This isn’t strictly true, but it isn’t strictly untrue either. @Virgadays states on the Reddit thread, “The captain has almost limitless authority when the doors are closed. He is allowed to arrest people, write fines…”
However, ExpertFlyer’s Chris Lopinto wants to clarify this belief a little. He states that it’s more a case of the pilot’s authority to work with the authorities: “The captain…can put you in restraints for the authorities to pick up on the ground if there is a problem, but the captain can’t ‘arrest’ you in the legal sense of the word.”
17 Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting (But You Wouldn’t Know It)
In just about every profession you care to mention, there are going to be insider secrets that those unfamiliar with the business wouldn’t appreciate. Have you ever watched somebody at work and thought that their job is easy? Usually, if you were to try it yourself, you’d soon find that it really isn’t.
Are flight crew just waitresses and waiters in the sky, as is sometimes snarkily said? Oh, heck no. Kelly Payne has worked in the industry for years, as a flight attendant and later as a reservations agent for major airlines, and she’s here to tell us what flight staff can really do:
“we are actually thoroughly trained in safety for various situations. We are trained to do CPR, use epi pens, AED and defibrillators, we take self defense courses and practice what to do in case someone gets unruly or tries to take over the plane, we are there to guard the cockpit so people don't get in during the flight, along with what to do in an evacuation.”
In short: “the next time we smile, ask you what you'd like to drink and say "buh bye" on the way out- know that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes that you will hopefully never need us to kick into action to do.”
16 What's The Deal With Flight Attendants’ Pay, Anyway?
As we saw in the last entry, flight staff are trained for all manner of situations that most of us will probably never have to think about or deal with. All the majority of passengers do is sit there and fall asleep, after all.
As such, it’s a crying shame that there are lots of quibbles relating to their pay. Another half-truth you may have heard is that they are all only paid for the time that their airplanes are up there in the sky. Policies differ wildly between airlines on that one, as reported by The Huffington Post:
“…some may pay once the cabin door is closed, and some may not pay until the plane has left the ground. Captain Laura Russo told us that at her airline, United, the crew is paid once the plane “departs the gate”-- meaning that if takeoff is significantly delayed after the passengers board, flight attendants are paid for that time.”
15 All That Lightning Isn’t Anything To Worry About… Much
Lightning is one of those things that will give nervous or occasional flyers the heebie-jeebies. Seasoned staff and frequent flyers won’t really be too phased by it, though. Most of the time.
As reported by USA Today, it’s just such a common occurrence: “Lightning regularly strikes airplanes. In fact, as far as anyone knows, the odds are that each airliner in the USA will be hit by lightning once a year.”
It’s a shock (if you’ll pardon the pun), but does precious little harm to the craft itself in the majority of cases. In fact, USA Today goes on, a lightning strike hasn’t caused an aircraft crash in the USA, or of any US airline craft, in more than forty years.
14 The Sad Story Of Sub-Standard Salaries And Safety
With the responsibility and specialised nature of their jobs, not to mention the long hours, you’d expect that pilots would be making big, big money. Some of them are, certainly, but as always, that’s the select few.
According to Vagabondish, one pilot reports that “I earn $21,000 in a good year. Most believe we’re just glorified bus drivers. Well, I was a truck driver before I was a pilot and I can say being a pilot is an infinite amount more complicated than being a truck driver.”
“Some airlines don’t pay pilots or flight attendants for flights that cancel. Which doesn’t sound so bad until you start thinking about the safety implications.
A little short on the rent this month? Then I don’t see that hydraulic leak, I can’t afford to have the flight cancel.
Child needs to see the doctor? Maybe I don’t report the torn-up carpet that you might trip on in an evacuation, because carpet takes too long to replace–so the flight would cancel.
… not saying this happens all the time, because most crews are true professionals and can put their job ahead of their paycheck, but it happens enough to give you the goosebumps.”
That's just a little worrying...
13 That Isn’t Mood Lighting, You Know
While airplane journeys are pretty darn safe, statistically speaking, these are huge, complex and temperamental machines. Faults and accidents do happen, and there are stringent security measures and routines to go through when they do.
Many of which are being carried out without the average flyer’s knowledge. The crew don’t want us panicking and making a fuss before we absolutely have to be, do they?
One example of this is the lighting, which is sometimes lowered as a plane prepares to land. Why is this? To enable the eyes of those on board to adjust to the darkness, in case a landing incident leaves them without lighting.
12 They’re Not Kidding About The Emergency Door
As anybody who has flown before has probably seen, that’s a pretty darn secure door that planes have. When they announce that it’s ‘armed,’ they don’t mean that the door’s got a heavy bat in its door-arms, ready to beat back anyone who might try to tamper with it, but they might as well mean that.
What would happen in the door should somehow open during a flight? Here’s ScoopWhoop with the reassuring rundown: “If that tiny door unlatches itself then you'd be sucked out. Well, that's only if you happen to be close to it. If you are far away, chances are that you'll be turned into ice, courtesy the freezing air that will take over.”
Ultimately, though, the plane will be destroyed. Funny that they didn’t mention that in the safety briefing.
11 The Most Alarming Eleven Minutes Of Your Life
However many flights you’ve been on, however much of an airplane veteran you are, the take-off and landing are never really going to be a comfortable experience. In terms of general bumpiness and discomfort, these are the most gruelling moments of the journey.
They’re also, statistics show, the most dangerous portions of the flight. Studies show that the three minutes after taking off and the eight minutes before landing are the times when 80% of crashes occur.
So, there you go. If you’re one of those flyers who have to grip your travel-companion’s hand super tightly during these times, that’s sure to be a comfort to you.
10 Oxygen Masks: The Most alarming *Fifteen* Minutes Of Your Life
From that information, then, it’s clear that it’s the smallest periods of time that make all the difference. If you’re on a long-haul flight halfway around the world, a brief window of eleven minutes is barely a blip, but it’s the time that passengers and crew alike are at the most risk.
Here’s another super-alarming and brief slice of time: fifteen minutes. That’s the amount of time that those potentially-vital oxygen masks will last you, should there be a problem with the plane’s air supply. The idea is that you’ll only need a quarter of an hour before the pilot can get you down to a low enough altitude to be able to breathe naturally.
9 What’s That, R2-D2? Bleepy Bleepy, Bloopy Bloopy?
Here’s another thing that most flyers have probably picked up on: the amount of darn noise that the plane makes. Not simply the roaring engines and such, but the sporadic beeps and whirs the machinery emits. It’s like you’re flying in a plane full of R2 bots from Star Wars, all having a heated conversation among themselves.
What are all of these beepy noises about? It’s a bit of an industry secret, but those chimes are all relaying information to the flight attendant without our knowledge. What do they mean? Well, hopefully, just things like everything’s fine or quick, get that poor kid in seat 34B an airsickness bag, he’s gone the same colour as the blancmange my grandma makes at thanksgiving.
8 Lacking That Human Touch…
Here in the wacky world of 2018-coming-on-2019, technology has taken over most of our lives. Most of us can scarcely live without whipping out our phones and scrolling through social media at every opportunity. The average commuter wouldn’t notice if one of their fellow passenger’s hair was on fire, because they’re staring down at the cellphones.
Regardless, though, we want to know that people are still in charge of some aspects of our lives. It’s a little alarming, then to learn that, on flights, “While the plane is actually in flight, a lot of the actual flying is handled by computers.”
Where would we be without that friendly voice over the intercom?
7 …Except For The Scariest Part Of The Journey
I can appreciate the power of technology, I really can. We’re coming to trust it more and more, as a society, simply because… well, you can’t get away from it. Even so, we’ve all seen the Terminator movies (if you haven’t, you really should have done, and we can’t be friends until you rectify that), and we all know that giving machines too much control over other machines/ourselves is not a good thing.
As such, it’s equal parts relieving and unnerving to learn that we retain control over the most alarming part of any flight: take-off and landing. As reported by industry veteran Kelly Payne, “the plane is basically all under the hands of the pilots during those times.”
6 Afternoon Flight? Too Bad!
So maybe you’re a nervous flyer, and you want to make things as comfortable for yourself as possible. Of course, you’ve got to jump in and take whatever the airlines will offer you, but here’s something that could be a comfort: afternoon flights are the most traumatic, generally speaking.
How’s that? Well, as AOL reports, “Afternoon flights are the worst for turbulence. Afternoons have an increased likelihood of both bumpy air and thunderstorms, but the air in the late night and early morning becomes more level as the night cools off.”
In my experience, we’re most often saddled with outrageous-o-clock morning flights (the taxi’s booked for 3:15am? What is that? That’s not even a time!), so that’s not always a worry. Just something else to bear in mind.