Flight attendants, pilots, and engineers submitted responses to “things that most airline passengers don’t know”, though I’d counter that most frequent travelers are aware of many of these…
1. The true story behind those oxygen masks – If the oxygen masks drop down, you only have about 15 minutes of oxygen from the point of pulling them down. However, that is more than enough time for the pilot to take us to a lower altitude where you can breathe normally. More important – at altitude, you have 15-20 seconds before you pass out. Put yours on first, then do your kids. Passing out for a few seconds won’t harm the kids.
2. The water in the lavatories is very dirty too – Whatever you do, do not drink the water in the lav. It is bad enough to “wash” your hands in it. We sanitize the water tank at selected maintenance intervals, however parasites build tolerances to these cleaners. Check the outside of the aircraft when walking in. If the paint is crappy shape, the plane is in crappy shape. Skydrol (hydraulic fluid) is a nasty fluid and will dissolve everything. So if the paint is missing, it’s probably from a skydrol leak. No one wants a hydraulic leak at 35,000 ft in the air. As you can’t just pull over and top the reservoir off.
3. The REAL reason the lights on the airplane dim when landing – When a plane is landing at night, they dim the interior lights in case you need to evacuate upon landing… your eyes are already adjusted to the darkness so you’ll be able to see better once outside the plane.
4. Lightning and the power of a pilot – My dad’s been an airline pilot for almost 20 years, and apparently planes get struck by lightning all the time. Also if a passenger is causing a scene in the jetway he can refuse to let them on and take off without them. The captain has almost limitless authority when the doors are closed. He is allowed to arrest people, write fines and even take the will of a dying passenger.
5. Those lavatories unlock from the outside – You are able to unlock airplane lavatories from the outside. There is usually a lock mechanism concealed behind the no smoking badge on the door. Just lift the flap up and slide the bolt to unlock.
6. A true story of a bomb threat – I have a friend who’s a commercial pilot. Around five years ago he was doing a flight from LA to Tokyo when an anonymous caller phoned in a bomb threat while they were over the middle of the Pacific. Apparently they have procedures for this kind of thing, but there was nothing anyone could do in this situation except stay calm and not alert the passengers (obviously). He said for the rest of the flight every bump of turbulence made his adrenaline spike. They took this case especially seriously because there was a group of foreign dignitaries sitting in the first class cabin.
7. Regarding food on the plane – My dad works for a large airline, he told me a few little things – 2 pilots are served different meals and cannot share, this is done in case of food poisoning Stealing food, even if they are going to throw it out can get you fired instantly. You can ask your supervisor, but you cannot take food. They don’t want people messing with it.
8. The truth about flying with pets – I am an aircraft fueler. One thing I cannot stress enough is how your pets are treated. While your airline will take the best possible actions, some things cannot be avoided, like the noise on the ramp. I cannot stand out there without ear protection, and imagine your pet sitting out there on the ramp waiting to be loaded onto the plane being exposed to the same amount of noise I am. Please people, think twice before flying your pets.
9. What flight attendants really do after telling the plane to turn off their electronics – My sister is a flight attendant, she says after she tells everyone to turn off all electronics, she goes to the back and pulls out her phone and starts texting.
10. A trick for making more space for yourself – Arm rests – aisle and window seat: Run your hand along the underside of the armrest, just shy of the joint you’ll feel a button. Push it, and it will lift up. Adds a ton of room to the window seat and makes getting out of the aisle a helluva lot easier.
11. Don’t drink water on a plane that didn’t come from a bottle – Former Lufthansa cargo agent here. Do not EVER drink water on an aircraft that did not come from a bottle. Don’t even TOUCH IT. The reason being the ports to purge lavatory shit and refill the aircraft with potable water are within feet from each other and sometimes serviced all at once by the same guy. Not always, but if you’re not on the ramp watching, you’ll never know.
12. On the importance of locking your bags – Lock your bags, carry-on bags included. Look online or in a travel store for TSA-approved locks. The TSA has keys to open those locks in case they need to further inspect them (and hopefully not steal from them). And most people don’t think to lock their carry-on, but especially now with load factors very high, more and more people are having to gate check bags. Once you drop your bag at the end of the jetway for gate-checking, anyone from a fellow passenger, to a gate agent, to a ramp agent has access to your bag.
13. How a pilot approaches landing – When you experience a hard landing in bad weather it wasn’t because of a lack of pilot skills but it is in fact intentional. If the runway is covered in water the airplane has to touch down hard in order to puncture the water layer and prevent aqua planing. “Landings are nothing more than controlled crashes.” Pilot friend quote.
14. Tipping could go a long way – My girlfriend is a flight attendant. NO ONE tips flight attendants. If you give your FA a fiver with your first drink you’ll probably drink for free the rest of the flight.
15. Pilots are sleeping most of the time – 1/2 of pilots sleep while flying and 1/3 of the time they wake up to find their partner asleep.
16. Just because you’re flying with a big airline, doesn’t mean the pilots are experienced – Regional airline pilot here. You may have bought a ticket on Delta, United, or American, but chances are you’ll be flying on a subcontractor. That means the pilots have a fraction of the experience, training, and pay of the big mainline carrier. Also, I don’t get paid enough to care if you make your connection. Most of the time we fly slower than normal to make more money. The only time we fly fast is if ATC tells us to or if it’s the go home leg.
17. The truth behind turning off electronics – Pilot here. Having to turn off electronics on a plane is totally useless. Mobile electronic devices won’t really bring an airplane down but they can be really annoying to pilots. Just imagine sitting in the flightdeck descending to your destination and hearing the interference of a 100+ cellphones picking up a signal. I have missed a clearance or 2 that way.
18. Sky Mall is one big rip-off – Known Secret: All of the stuff in Sky Mall can be purchased on the internet for much less money.
19. How your checked bags are really treated – If it says “fragile,” it’s getting thrown harder. If it’s says this side up, it’s going to be upside down. We have to fit freight and 100+ bags in a cargo pit. It has to fit how it’s going to fit…I will tell you that when we see “I heart baggage handlers” bag tags…We take special care of your shit.
20. A flight attendant reveals just how dirty everything truly is – I worked for Southwest as a flight attendant. Those blankets and pillows? Yeah, those just get refolded and stuffed back in the bins between flights. Only fresh ones I ever saw were on an originating first flight in the morning in a provisioning city. Also, 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. And those trays, yeah, never saw them cleaned or sanitized once.
21. A loophole so you never have to pay baggage fees – You can almost always gate check baggage (unless it’s abnormally large) take two large carry-ons and ask then to gate check one. It’s free and I never pay fees.
22. Most flights are also carrying human organs – The majority of domestic flights have human remains or organs on them. I work below wing as a baggage handler. Watch out the window for long boxes that say, “Head” at one end… Oh, and I can fit 150 bags in bin 3 of a Boeing 737-300.
23. Airports haven’t covered all of their security bases yet – There are actually legitimate security loopholes that, if widely known, would let average citizens get right next to airliners, runways, and taxiways. Like any system, if you know how it works, you know where the cracks are.
24. Planes without engines can still glide for a really long time – A pilot told me if both engines fail, a plane can glide 6 nautical miles for every 5000 feet. So at 35,000 feet, a plane can glide about 42 miles without power. Its why most accidents happen during landing or taking off.
25. The drinking water used for coffee and tea is FILTHY – The drinking water, that used for making coffee, tea, etc., should NEVER be consumed. The holding tanks in these sometimes 60 year old planes are never cleaned. They have accumulated so much greenish grime on the walls that in some places it can be inches thick. This one is very known by all airline employees.
26. Why it’s always easier to just take the batteries out – Women: if you pack a toy in your bag, take the batteries out. Because if I’m loading your bag, and I hear it vibrating I have to tell my lead. Then my lead has to come pull you off the aircraft and you have to open your bag and turn off your toy in front of a bunch of giggling grown ass men.
27. Planes have a hard time flying on hot days – I worked the ramp in Phoenix. On especially hot days, we had to offload cargo because planes struggled to take off in the thin air.
28. Even the headphones that come wrapped up aren’t new – I used to work for warehouse that supplied a certain airline with items. The headsets that are given to you are not new, despite being wrapped up. They are taken off the flight, “cleaned”, and then packaged again.
29. How to tell from the ground if a plane is being hijacked – If the plane is being hijacked when the pilot lands they will leave the wing flaps up that slow the plane down, this is to signal the airport that there is something happening in the plane.
30. The real reason there are still ashtrays in the lavatories – Here’s one: ashtrays in the lavatories are mandatory equipment even though the FAA banned smoking on flights years ago. The reasoning is that if people do decide to smoke, they want them to have a place other than the trash can to throw the butt.
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