Traveling by air, it seems, is an innately magical experience. Sure, it may have been more glamorous once, but the uniforms, the service – even the little bag of peanuts – all hold a certain charm to them that can only come with the knowledge that you are traveling to some faraway destination.
Still, despite how common plane travel is today, there’s still a lot even the most seasoned of travelers don’t know about what goes on behind the scenes to make our flying experience possible.
Just how clean – or safe – are our planes, really? And what do the romantic lives of flight attendants look like?
Believe us, if you’ve ever flown – or intend to fly – these are secrets you want to know.
Have a safe flight!
Can Flight Attendants Date Passengers?
While you might expect them to, most major airlines actually don’t have a policy against flight attendant fraternizing with passengers.
While flight attendants are often victims of harassment and unwanted attention from some passengers, if they so choose, they can, in fact, make romantic connections as they work. There’s no flight attendant-passenger ethical code they’d be breaking!
Don’t get your hopes up, though; the work of a flight attendant is hard, exhausting and demanding, so most stewards and stewardesses usually don’t feel too frisky while they’re on the job.
Are Planes Really Clean?
If you’re particularly partial to cleanliness and have to travel by air often, you might want to skip this next bit: Airlines have a limited number of planes, and a desire to maximize their flight time. The longer a plane sits on the tarmac, the more money the airline loses. This means that while turnover crews do vacuum the carpets and empty the trash, they don’t spend much time going over the tray tables, seats and windows.
Since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t oversee plane cleanliness, airlines pretty much dictate their own levels of sanitary thoroughness, which can mean planes are often not as clean as you’d like them to be.
How to Get Upgraded to First Class
We’ve all heard the story: there you are, readying yourself emotionally to take a seat in the cramped, confined physical space that’s been allocated to you in Economy Class when a member of the flight crew informs you that your ticket has been upgraded – at no extra cost.
How does that happen?
Well, the truth is, there are all sorts of reasons for getting an upgrade. It could be due to weight distribution concerns, or simply because there were an extra seat and the flight crew were feeling generous.
It certainly doesn’t hurt if you’re attractive, pregnant or a friend of someone working at the airline.
Do Flight Crews Sleep on Long Flights?
When we fly, we try to fall asleep as soon as we reach our seats – but flight crews don’t have that luxury.
Still, on long flights aboard large aircraft like the Boeing 777 and 787, there are special cabins filled with bunks reserved for the flight crew, on which they can nap in turns if they need to sleep.
Pilots on these flights are also allocated rest periods and take turns with their co-pilots to rest up and stay fresh. The pilots’ sleeping berth is usually in its own, separate compartment, and isn’t shared with the rest of the flight crew.
How Unhealthy is Airplane Food?
Providing an accommodating service during flights can be pretty challenging. It’s not just that people are agitated and confined in a closed space – flying at altitude actually affects the human body in ways you might not expect. One of the effects of high altitude is a diminished sense of smell and taste. This means that in order for the inflight meal to register as anything but bland, it needs to be packed full of sugar, salt, fat and simple carbs – strong tastes our tongues register even under the harshest conditions.
And so, while inflight meals may not taste horrible, they’re not exactly good for you, either.
The Realities of Being a Flight Attendant
Working as a flight attendant might seem glamorous; the uniforms, the hairstyle – and, of course, seeing the world.
But the realities of being a flight attendant are quite demanding. Unlike a 9 to 5 job, being a flight attendant means working odd hours – without access to a phone, constant jet lag, extended time away from family and loved ones, and working nights, holidays and weekends.
It ain’t easy!
Don’t Order the Diet Coke!
If you want to remain on friendly terms with your flight attendant, one surprising thing you should probably not do is order a Diet Coke.
Because of the carbonated drink’s composition, it takes the drink’s frothy fizz much longer to settle at cruising altitude than any other beverage served on flights. Flight attendants report that to prevent the drink from overflowing, it takes them about three times as long to pour Diet Coke as it does any other drink they’re asked for.
When you’re trying to serve an entire plane full of disgruntled travelers, every second count, and Diet Cokes make the seconds stretch to minutes.
Are In-Flight Pillows and Blankets Clean?
The worst, most unsanitary thing in a plane, research has concluded, is the tray table. They rarely get wiped down, and people place their hands, heads, food, and belongings on them.
Still, a close second would be the inflight pillows and blankets.
While they are given wrapped in plastic, you might be surprised to learn that they usually aren’t fresh.
In fact, blankets and pillows are usually collected at the end of flights, folded, repackaged and given to the next round of passengers. If you’re absolutely set on sleeping on clean pillows, though, don’t despair: early morning flights usually have clean(er) sets.
Our Flight Attendants Chosen for Their Looks?
Back when the commercial flight was still in its infancy, flight attendants had to adhere to a rigid – and extremely sexist – set of criteria, which included age, weight, height, and personal grooming.
Today, flight staff don’t have to adhere to these outdated and irrelevant standards.
And while airlines still put an emphasis on attendants’ appearance, making sure it remains professional, “beauty” standards are no longer relevant.
Well – except one. Flight attendants do need to be within a certain height range – but not for lecherous reasons, but rather, to ensure they can safely and easily reach overhead compartments.
What Do Flight Crews Eat?
Generally speaking, flight crews don’t share the same food while working. This may seem strange, but actually makes a lot of sense once it’s explained.
In the case of food poisoning, the crew needs to still be able to function. That’s why the pilot receives a first-class meal, while the co-pilot receives a business class one; these meals are always comprised of different ingredients so that there’s no chance that both of them will fall ill at once.
Does Food Get Reused?
Most airlines throw uneaten food out after every flight. But that doesn’t mean what you’re eating is fresh, exactly.
The majority of airplane meals are produced in industrial kitchens run by catering services contracted by the airlines. These meal trays are usually claimed to be freshly prepared, but most plane food is made 12 to 72 hours before the flight and can be chilled for up to five days before being served – so if those salad leaves look a little wilted, you might want to push them aside and stick to the peanuts.
Is There Romance Between Crew Members?
Flight crews work long, hard hours together in a closed, confined space. While that may sound like a recipe for violence, it actually helps spark quite a few workplace romances.
It is very common for pilots and flight attendants – or just flight attendants – to date each other – and some couples in established relationships even choose to fly together.
While it may seem stereotypical, it actually makes a lot of sense.
The Secret Language of Air Crews
It’s not difficult to imagine scenarios where aircrews need to communicate something discreetly, without alarming the passengers.
This is why flight attendants often use subtle codes to let each other know what’s going on.
Have you heard the occasional “ding” during a flight that doesn’t sound like someone calling an attendant?
These often indicate things like turbulence, dangerous stages of flights, and can even indicate an emergency or alert the crew to an unauthorized person trying to enter the cockpit.
When Is Autopilot Switched On?
Many people think that a plane’s human pilot steers the aircraft for the majority of the flight, but the truth is quite different.
In fact, human pilots are mostly behind the plane’s joystick for emergencies. For over %90 of flight time, however, the autopilot is switched on.
While take-off, landing and taxiing all require a human hand, once the plane is in the air the autopilot takes over, while the human pilots are free to focus on system checks, navigation, and communication with nearby control towers.
The Glamorous Life of Flight Attendants
Flight attendants may seem like they’re living the dream; they get paid to travel and regularly see the world thanks to their job. But while that is true, there are also quite a few downsides to working as part of a plane’s aircrew.
Flight attendants are often very busy, finishing one flight only to board another, and are, in many airlines, paid only for their time in the air – which means that as long as the plane is sitting on the tarmac, they’re not being compensated.
So next time you’re waiting for your delayed flight to take off, you can be sure that your aircrew is just as anxious for the plane to get off the ground as you are!
Nice to be Important – but More Important to be Nice
Being nice to flight attendants is always appreciated. They work extremely hard, are on their feet many long hours a day, and cater to countless people, many of whom are on edge. So if you can find it in you to smile or make their day a little nicer – why not do it?
But even if you don’t care about flight attendants, you should probably take into consideration that they can re-seat you, or place someone unpleasant next to you if you rubbed them the wrong way!
Paying for Overweight Luggage
Airlines tend to charge extra for overweight luggage – and if you’ve found yourself paying extra for being just a hair over the allocated weight, you might not want to read further.
Not only are those few extra pounds not going to be a burden on the plane, airlines actually tend to pack their cargo holds with sandbags – sometimes with up to 600 pounds of weight! – just to even out the plane’s weight distribution.
What Authority Does the Pilot Really Have?
Well, this might surprise you, but during a flight, the captain has a lot of authority.
Being the ultimate decision-maker on the plane, the captain decides where the plane goes, commands the crew, handles emergencies and deals with troublesome passengers.
While the captain can’t place people under arrest, despite what some urban legends might claim, it is within the captain’s authority to place people in handcuffs or restraints if they deem that person a threat to the safety of the flight.
In addition, much like a sea captain, a pilot can also take a dying passenger’s final will and testament if need be.
Air Marshals and Onboard Security
If you’ve watched Non-Stop with Liam Neeson, you probably have a few ideas about US Air Marshals and how they operate.
The truth is, you probably won’t be able to identify who the air marshal on your flight is – if there’s an air marshal on it at all. The presence of US Air Marshals on flights has been bolstered since 9/11, but many American flights still don’t have a law enforcement official onboard.
Other airlines, however, like Israel’s El Al, for instance, always have at least one armed official flying incognito on board as a matter of policy – a fact which makes their flights more desired by some safety-conscious travelers.
The First Thing Flight Attendants Notice About You
If you’ve ever boarded a plane, you might have noticed a big portion of the flight crew stand at the entrance and greet you as you enter. While this practice is intended to make passengers feel welcome, it also serves another purpose.
Flight crews use this greeting ceremony as an opportunity to screen and assess passengers. As they wave hello and show passengers to their seats, they try to assess if any of them could be a possible problem during the flight.
In addition to seeing if passengers are generally friendly, they also try to assess if any are intoxicated, physically fit or disabled, and, on international flights, if they speak enough English to be of help during emergencies.
Do You Really Need to Switch Off Your Electronic Device?
Sure, they say your smartphone can interfere with the plane’s systems if it isn’t switched off or put in flight mode… but is that really true? And if it isn’t, is there some other reason they ask you to put your phone away during takeoff and landing?
Well, the truth is – your phone will, by itself, not interfere with the plane’s system. But you’re not alone on this flight and when you – and others – don’t switch off your phones inside a packed metal tube, the cellular reception frequencies can actually interfere with air traffic control reception – which won’t bring down the plane but can be quite annoying for the pilots.
On top of that, unsecured phones and laptops can slip out of passengers’ hands, and, at the high acceleration that takes place during liftoff, it can really hurt if they hit someone on the head!
How Safe Are Airplanes, Really?
Commercial jets actually have a very robust and demanding list of technical constraints that need to be addressed before every flight, making sure the plane is in good working condition.
This doesn’t mean every plane you fly in is in peak working condition, however. Planes are big machines with multiple, redundant systems, and some, inevitably, don’t always function well.
In order to avoid delays, airlines have a set threshold for minor failures that can go unattended before flights – but don’t be too concerned. The threshold is still very demanding.
The structure and build of planes, in itself, is quite sturdy. During thunderstorms, planes can even be hit by lightning multiple times without sustaining any damage!
Is There a Doctor Onboard?
It’s a scene that’s been played out in countless movies and TV shows; a passenger has a medical emergency on a flight, and one of the flight attendants calls out “is there a doctor on board?”
The truth is, flight attendants are trained as first responders and have pretty extensive first aid training. All planes are equipped with multiple first aid kits, and planes carrying over 30 passengers have defibrillators. Still, the crew isn’t medical professionals, and if one of the passengers is a doctor, they may call on him or her for help.
In serious situations, pilots can decide to land the plane at a nearby airport at their discretion – a procedure which, during domestic flights, doesn’t take more than 15 minutes.
The Dangers of Flying
Many people foster all sorts of anxieties about flying – and who can blame them? Hurtling through the air at high speeds while crammed into what is, essentially, a metal tube, doesn’t exactly sound relaxing.
But flying is actually very, very safe. According to US government research, the chances of being in a fatal car accident are 1 in 98 while the odds for being in a plane crash are 1 in 7,178.
So really, flying isn’t scary at all.
We’ve all seen the signs in airplane lavatories: “Do NOT drink the tap water!”
Sure, that makes sense – keeping water tanks full of water for toilets and sinks is one thing, but keeping them clean enough to be used as drinking water is another.
But the water stewards serve you for coffee or tea is okay… isn’t it?
Well, it turns out – you might want to put off your cup of joe until you land at your destination. While the drinking water tanks are cleaned, they’re not cleaned very often.
Best to stick with the bottled and canned stuff if you can.
Putting Your Feet Up
Flights can be long and unpleasant, and getting comfortable can seem like a pretty high priority – but you might want to rethink taking off your shoes and socks.
Other passengers might have had an “accident” or may have been injured, and while flight crews may clean up the aisles with some wet towels, thorough cleaning of the plane takes time and doesn’t happen often.
The Brace Position Conspiracy
If you’ve been paying attention during flight safety demonstrations, you’re probably familiar with the “brace” position you’re supposed to take in case the plane goes down.
Some conspiracy theories claim this position isn’t safer than any other, and is, in fact, meant to ensure you receive a quicker death – but flight safety experts – and MythBusters! – assure us that’s not true.
The position actually helps compact the body and protect vital organs from injury – as well as channels the force of the crash into the chair in front of you, rather than into your body.
Many people tend to treat flight attendants like waiting for staff or babysitters – but doing so is actually extremely rude.
Flight attendants are trained professionals, and while they do distribute food and drink during the flight, their primary function is to keep the plane and passengers safe.
Trained to do CPR and to use EpiPens, AEDs and defibrillators, they also know how to bring unruly passengers under control, deal with emergency evacuations and attempted hijackings – and keep the cockpit safe from any danger presented by passengers on the plane.
Boozing It Up
We don’t ever feel like we’re truly up in the air until we have one of those tiny booze bottles firmly placed on our tray table. There’s nothing quite as quintessential to flying as those small bottles of liquor, but while getting lightly buzzed off of one, they do need to come with a warning label.
Did you know that it’s illegal to be drunk on a plane? It’s possible to get up to a two-year sentence for being drunk on an aircraft, and flight attendants often have to cut passengers off from their little bottle of gin if they overdo it!
Skeletons in the Closet
Commercial airliners don’t just transport passengers’ luggage in the cargo hold. These planes crisscross the globe on a regular basis and are often used to carry mail, package, and ever human remains – or “HR” as they’re called over the radio.
While that may sound grim, when people die abroad their remains need to be returned home somehow. Don’t worry, though – when that happens, bodies are stored in a separate compartment and don’t mix with the passengers’ luggage!
Why They Really Dim the Lights Before Landing
Have you ever wondered why they dim the lights before takeoff and landing? While it may seem like a way to create a more romantic ambiance, the real reason behind this change in lighting is actually far more practical.
Takeoffs and landings are the stages of a flight that are most prone to accidents. If a plane crashes, chances are, most likely, that it will do so during this time. The dim lighting both helps the eyes adjust to the darkness – which may help passengers orient themselves better once the plane hits the ground, as well as allow them to see the emergency lights more clearly.
The Mile High Club
Have you ever heard of the “Mile High Club?”
For those of you who aren’t in the know, members of the “Mile High Club” hold the dubious honor of having been… intimate on a plane – while it was flying in cruising altitude.
But would you really want to join that club? Here’s what we know about the dangers:
First, airplane bathrooms are quite cramped – and their sanitation is unregulated by anyone other than the airline itself.
Second, their doors can be unlocked from the outside by the flight crew.
Third, getting caught might mean being charged with indecent exposure and interfering with the flight crew’s work – both federal offenses while on a plane.
Flying Without an Engine
Planes have multiple redundant systems in place, and that includes engines. If one of the plane’s engines gives out, there’s a secondary one to take its place. But even if the plane suffers complete engine failure, not all is lost.
Thanks to their aerodynamic design, planes can glide about 1.5 nautical miles for every 1,000 feet of altitude. Considering commercial jets cruise at around 30,000 feet, that gives an engineless jet around 45 nautical miles – that’s around 51 miles or 83 kilometers – to fly before touching the ground, which gives the pilot plenty of time to land safely.
Is the Air Inside the Cabin Safe to Breathe?
If you’ve ever been closed inside an airplane with someone who’s coughing or sniffling, thoughts of contamination must have passed through your head.
And while it’s true that some of the air inside the cabin is recirculated, tests conducted actually show that the air inside the cabin is very clean and akin to the air you breathe in a standard office.
This is made possible thanks to compressors that take fresh air in from outside and mix it with the recirculated cabin air.
Flying With Pets
The internet is rife with horror stories about what pets go through when traveling by air. And while flying is undoubtedly stressful for animals, an aircraft fueler recently answered questions by concerned pet owners on Reddit. He explained that in most cases, the airline will try to handle pet travel as safely and gently as possible, but that some factors, like noise out on the tarmac and on the loading ramp, can’t be avoided and will most likely put pets under stress.
Why is Flying so Expensive?
Flying is expensive. It always has been, and even with low-cost companies entering the market in recent years, it seems like prices will never be manageable for the average working Joe.
But it’s not completely unjustified. In order for an airline to make a profit off of a flight, planes have to be at least %85 full – which, considering last-minute cancellations, explains why airlines tend to overbook their flights.
What Are the Oxygen Masks Really For?
You’ve probably heard one conspiracy theory or another about oxygen masks and what their “real” function is.
But the truth is, oxygen masks really do supply oxygen, and can do so for up to 15 minutes. And while 15 minutes may not sound like a whole lot, it should be enough time for the pilot to descend to a lower altitude, equalize cabin pressure and allow passengers to breathe safely again.
Are Cheaper Flights Less Safe?
Many people worry that when they choose to fly with budget airlines, they may be compromising their safety in case of an emergency.
But while budget airlines “cut corners” on many things, including legroom, amenities, onboard luggage and more, one thing they don’t skimp on is safety.
In fact, because many of these budget airlines are quite new, their aircraft tend to be new as well – and therefore, safer than the older aircraft used by traditional airlines!
What’s the Safest Seat on the Plane?
You might be thinking that the safest seats on the plane would be reserved for first-class passengers, but that is not the case.
Statistical studies of plane crashes have proven that seats at the rear of the aircraft are the ones with the highest rates of survival. Analysis has shown that the rear third of the plane has elevated rates of survival during a crash in comparison to the front and center of the aircraft – but a seat’s location in relation to the front or back of the plane isn’t the only contributing factor.
Factors like a fastened seatbelt, close proximity to an emergency exit and access to the aisle all contribute to survival rates. It’s important to note that according to federal reports, the majority of plane crashes are, in fact, survivable.
What’s the Best Time to Fly?
One dilemma when buying plane tickets is which flight to choose. The early morning flight? An evening cruise? Or the red-eye?
If you ask aircrews, they tend to give one answer: early morning.
Sure, you have to set your alarm clock early, but you’ll avoid inclement weather, low turbulence, and fewer thunderstorms – which means that even if you’re tired, you’ll have an easier time napping through your journey.