Flight Myths – Busted!

21st July 2019

From the ‘safest’ places to sit to seatbelt signs being used to control passengers, here’s the lowdown on the most popular flying myths.

Flying has always attracted conspiracy theories – probably because there’s always been an element of mystery which surrounds it. After all, rocketing through the air in a metal tube can be quite nerve-wracking for some people. We’ve all looked down into the inky blackness on a night flight and thought, ‘Goodness, we’re a long way from land – and so high up.’

The good news is that flying is statistically one of the safest forms of transport, despite all the rumours which swirl around air travel. So we thought we’d take the opportunity to debunk some of the most popular Chinese whispers for once and for all.

Can planes drop hundreds of feet during turbulence?

No. It might feel like it, especially if you’re a nervous flier – but it’s more likely that you’ve just moved around 10-20 feet. “Altitude, bank, and pitch will change only slightly during turbulence – in the cockpit we see just a twitch on the altimeter,” says Patrick Smith of Ask the Pilot. “Passengers might feel the plane ‘plummeting’ or ‘diving’ – words the media can’t get enough of – when in fact it’s hardly moving.”

Is the brace position designed to kill you instantly but preserve your dental records?

No. Despite several online blogs claiming the brace position will instantly break your neck, the brace position is designed to minimise the impact of a crash on the body. It protects your head, as well as stopping your body from jack-knifing and your shins from hitting the seat in front of you.

This rather unsavoury rumour has been doing the rounds for decades and has been debunked by Snopes.

Are passengers given lifejackets so their bodies can be found if the plane lands in water?

No. Funnily enough, your life vest is there to give you the best chance of survival if your plane crashes into the water. You’ll be more visible to staff and rescue teams, you’ll be able to attract attention with the light and whistle, and it’s an extra layer of insulation when you’re in the water.

Would passengers be told if their plane was going down?

Yes – passengers have to know what’s going on so everyone’s prepared if you have to evacuate or prepare for an emergency landing. Airline staff aren’t legally required to tell you about everything that’s happening on board – but if there ever was a serious problem, you’ll be told by the crew. You’ll also be informed if there are any less-serious issues, such as problems with the landing gear or a precautionary landing.

Where’s the best place to sit for a smooth ride?

There’s no ‘golden seat’ to guarantee a turbulence-free flight, but as a rule, the front of the plane can feel less bumpy than the back. Some people book flights on larger planes that fly at higher altitudes, as lower altitudes are prone to turbulence, although this isn’t possible for every journey.

Why do passengers have to put on their seatbelts, even when the air is smooth?

There’s no single answer. Sometimes pilots will spot rough weather ahead, and take the necessary precautions to make sure everyone’s ready and strapped in. Sometimes cabin crew need to be able to move around the plane and it’s a lot easier if everyone’s sitting down. Many airlines make sure passengers are in their seats if the pilot or first officer needs to use the toilet or speak to staff in the galley. Just because you can’t see a reason why you have to remain strapped in doesn’t mean there isn’t one – so buckle up!

Should you watch the cabin crew to see if there’s an issue with a flight?

If it makes you feel safer, go ahead – but remember they’re trained professionals who are there to make you feel safe, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see them panic. Even in the unlikely event of a problem, the crew are trained at staying calm and making sure safety procedures are followed – and they’ll put passengers’ needs first.

What do the ‘dings’ after take-off mean?

There are two kinds of chimes. The first one is a phone call between the cockpit and cabin crew – they share an intercom system, and instead of ringing like a phone, the systems ‘ping’ when someone’s calling. The second kind are signals – you may often hear one, two or three chimes. Airlines have their own rules about what these mean and when they’re given. For example, some airlines ‘ping’ when they’ve reached 10,000 feet after take-off. Other airlines will use a single chime to indicate turbulence or ask cabin crew to return to their seats. Pilots have been known to ‘ping’ the cabin crew when they want a coffee. It all depends on the individual airline.

Do you get drunk more quickly on a flight?

No. A study done in the 1930s proved that higher altitudes can make you intoxicated faster, but the cabin pressure in a plane eliminates that.

As an aside, lots of people enjoy a couple of drinks to calm any nerves – but you shouldn’t drink too much on a flight. Alcohol dehydrates you and the cabin air’s already very dry, and you’ll feel terrible when the buzz wears off.

Image credit: Flickr/Sarah_Ackerman

Is it dangerous to fly over the Bermuda Triangle?

No, it’s not, planes fly over it all the time. Check out FlightRadar 24 – the triangle between the southern tip of Florida, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico will always have some air traffic. If you’re on a flight which is heading over the Bermuda Triangle, relax – you’re in safe hands!

Can someone open a plane door mid-flight?

Not unless they’re Superman, and even then, the caped crusader would have a tough time. Cabin pressure won’t allow it, and when the plane is cruising, there are up to eight pounds of pressure pushing against every square inch of the door. That’s one less thing for you to worry about.

Image credit: Flickr/Laura

Is the air on planes totally filthy? Does it spread diseases?

No – it’s probably much cleaner than the air in your office or gym. Cabin air is refreshed about 20 times an hour. It’s drawn in from outside the plane via the engines and sucked through a high-quality filter before it reaches the cabin. It’s dry, so long-haul flyers can find their skin suffers after a flight, but that’s pretty much the only issue.

If you’re worried about germs, make sure you give your tray table a wipe with an antibacterial cloth – it’s one of the grubbiest things on the flight you’ll come into contact with, with the exception of the toilet.

by William Finden

About the Author: William Finden is the Founder and MD of Oaklands Global. He is a seasoned executive search and recruitment specialist with over 16 years of experience, dedicated to the international aviation & aerospace markets. William leads Oaklands Global’s C-Suite practice and has had a successful career delivering at the executive level for a diverse portfolio of clientele including Business Jet Operators, OEM’s, MRO’s, FBO’s Airlines and Rotary businesses. To learn more about how William can assist with your next career move or to discuss your next director level hire please contact him by email: william.finden@oaklandsglobal.com

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