20 Common Myths About Airplanes You Need to Stop Believing
Busting these super-common airplane myths will no doubt make you feel safer every time you fly.
Don’t fall for all those scary airplane scenes in moviesmotive56/Shutterstock
Of all the things your flight attendant won’t tell you, perhaps the most curious is that airplane travel is now safer than ever. In fact, 2017 saw no fatalities resulting from commercial airline crashes, and a quick look at statistics compiled by the Aviation Safety Network reveals that even as traveling by airplane has become increasingly widespread, the number of fatal accidents has been on a downward trend. Accordingly, many of the scary stories and worrisome warnings you’ve heard are no longer true (or never were in the first place).
Now, just go ahead and try to open that cabin doorYuttapol Phetkong/Shutterstock
You may have heard stories of passengers threatening to exit midflight through a cabin door and worried that something terrible could happen to everyone on board. Fact is, a commercial aircraft door can’t be opened during a flight, according to Dan Boland, airline pilot and founder of Holidayers travel website. Doing so would require “superhuman strength.” To mystery buffs who wonder how to reconcile this with the story of hijacker, DB Cooper (who in 1971 may or may not have have parachuted to freedom midflight between Portland and Reno), we can say only that in 2018, no one is exiting a commercial airplane midflight.
Don’t fret those little holes in the windowKonrad Mostert/Shutterstock
Boland assures us that no one has ever been sucked out of an airplane due to a hole in a window—or anywhere else. First, airplanes are designed with small holes in the windows; they regulate cabin pressure. Second, even an unplanned hole (such as a bullet hole) wouldn’t pose a danger, Boland says. “You’d have a rush of air into the cabin, followed by oxygen masks dropping. Then you’d notice it getting colder and louder. But that’s it. No danger of being sucked out.”
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Speaking of oxygen masks…litabit/Shutterstock
Conspiracy theorists will tell you that oxygen masks don’t have an oxygen supply at all. They’re wrong, according to Boland. “In the rare event an airplane were to lose pressure, you’d lose consciousness within 45 seconds and die within minutes,” and we know that’s not what happens. That said, your mask provides only about 12 minutes worth of oxygen, according to Bobby Laurie, flight attendant-turned-travel-expert and host of televisions’ The Jet Set. However, that’s more than enough time for the pilot to descend to a breathable altitude.
Another oxygen conspiracy gets debunkedTyler Olson/Shutterstock
Some people believe that airplane cabins are deliberately low on oxygen in order to calm the passengers into a sleepy state, but nothing could be further from the truth, says Boland. “Pilots share the same air as passengers, so if this were true, we’d be falling asleep too.” The real reasons for in-flight fatigue have more to do with boredom, motion, and the fact that the cabin pressurization makes it slightly more difficult for human lungs to use oxygen.
Turn off your handheld device, but not for the reason you thinkMIND AND I/Shutterstock
Keeping your cell phone on during takeoff and landing will not interfere with the plane’s navigation, says Boland. The real reason you’re asked to turn off your devices is that you should be paying attention during takeoff and landing—to the safety speech and in case anything should go wrong that requires your action,” says Matt Guidice, operator of Matt’s Flights, a cheap-travel email subscription service. Here’s what else airlines aren’t telling you.
No, you won’t see it raining pee and poopSkycolors/Shutterstock
It’s time to put to rest the nasty rumor that pilots empty the toilet waste mid-flight, Boland tells Reader’s Digest. “The only waste that we can physically dump out the plane is water, and only through the flight attendant galley sinks.” To do otherwise would run the risk of something sticking to the aircraft and causing navigation problems.” Besides, it’s just totally nasty, and it doesn’t happen. Here’s more of what actually happens when you flush an airplane toilet.
Yet another toilet myth, and it suckslitabit/Shutterstock
Yes, the toilets suck hard when you flush, Boland admits. But is it true that if you flush while sitting down, your insides will get sucked right out of you? Heck no. The only way this could ever happen is if you were to somehow “miraculously” form the perfect seal of skin to seat while the flushing were continuous. Neither of these is possible. In fact, the toilet seats are designed to prevent a perfect seal from forming. But that’s actually not why public toilet seats are shaped like a horseshoe.
The cabin air isn’t your enemyRyan Fletcher/Shutterstock
A recent survey conducted by Honeywell found that nearly half of respondents were under the impression that cabin air makes people sick, presumably because it recycles people’s germs. While Boland admits “the dry cabin air supports germ spread,” the fact remains that the air is changed once every three minutes, with “60 percent recycled through hospital grade filters that remove 95 percent of bacteria, and 40 percent dedicated to cooling the computers and cargo holds.
Pilots don’t have parachutesBabyboom/Shutterstock
While germs may be airborne before they are filtered from the cabin, you can be sure that your pilot will not be airborne under any circumstances. “Why do people believe that pilots have parachutes?” Boland wonders. “Even if we did, we couldn’t escape an aircraft mid-flight” (as discussed earlier), “and besides, our job is to protect and safely fly our passengers to their destination.”
There isn’t only one pilotEmilian Danaila/Shutterstock
“This is your captain speaking,” you hear over the loudspeaker, and perhaps you think, “Wow, that’s the one guy who can fly this plane.” Wrong, says Boland. Both the captain and the first officer (also known as pilot and co-pilot) are full-on licensed pilots, fully capable of flying the plane. “The only major difference between both pilots is that the captain usually has more experience/seniority in the airline and is ultimately the number one person in charge of the crew and safety of the passengers.” These are the five buttons you’ll hope your pilots never ever has to touch.
The autopilot doesn’t actually fly the planeteerapat punsom/Shutterstock
One of the longstanding mysteries of air travel involves how the autopilot works. “Many people are under the impression that airplanes are actually flown via autopilot,” Guidice observes, but that’s simply not the case. The autopilot is essentially a very advanced form of GPS, providing input and support regarding direction and position, but there’s always a human in control of the airplane.
Pilots don’t actually avoid the Bermuda TrianglePhotonCatcher/Shutterstock
Speaking of navigation, people are still under the impression that the Bermuda Triangle is off-limits to aircraft, Boland tells Reader’s Digest. “Despite this location having a bad reputation for aircraft disappearing or crashing, it would make no sense to block airlines from transporting passengers to and from countries in the area and on flights that require this route to avoid major detours.” Boland’s theory for why planes have disappeared within the so-called Bermuda Triangle is tropical weather combined with vast stretches of ocean.
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Lightning storms won’t take down your planeorangecrush/Shutterstock
While tropical weather conditions over vast stretches of ocean may not be the best conditions for flying, there’s really nothing to fear about lightning, says Boland, who has flown on aircraft that’s been hit by lightning at some point or other. “Our newest aircraft was struck by lightning within one week,” and sustained no lasting damage. Most crew members are actually oblivious to lightning strikes thanks to lightning wicks that are built into the wings and tail to dissipate the electricity. (Make sure you don’t get caught doing any of these 18 things you should never do on airplanes.)
Secret crawl spaces are fictionalMangpink/Shutterstock
You know how airplanes in movies seem to come equipped with crawl spaces and secret passageways that conveniently hide terrorists, drug smugglers, and stowaways? Yeah, no. That’s not a thing, says Boland. “Before every flight, the cabin and ground crew check the entire aircraft for suspicious items, so any secret spaces would make this an even more tiring task.” The only spots that are good for “hiding” on the plane are for crew members to rest during long flights (and they’re not actually “secret”).
It isn’t actually easier to get drunkDavid Wingate/Shutterstock
While you might want to consider lay off the booze while flying, it’s not because you’re liable to get drunk more easily, says Boland. “The reason some believe this to be true is due to the nausea/dizziness caused by dehydration which is more pronounced during cruising altitude.” Dehydration does not equal a better buzz, so it’s probably “best not to drink too much on board if you want to avoid feeling tired and dehydrated upon reaching your destination.”
Small planes aren’t more dangerouspapi8888/Shutterstock
You’ve probably heard that small, private planes are more dangerous than large, commercial aircraft. In fact, it has much more to do with the pilot than the plane, according to William Herp, the CEO of Linear Air Taxi, which specializes in connecting travelers with commercial operators of three to eight passenger propeller planes. “Propeller planes flown in commercial operations have a safety record equal to four times better than the same airplanes flown by private pilots,” Herp tells Reader’s Digest, citing Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board.
You don’t have to be rich to fly smallTyler Olson/Shutterstock
Think you can’t afford to fly via small plane? Think again, says Doug Gollan, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of privatejetcardcomparisons.com, a buyer’s guide to prepaid private jet card programs. Using one of these programs (including JetSuiteX, Surf Air, and Tradewind Aviation), you can fly for about the same price as you’d pay to a mainstream commercial airline. “You get free Wi-Fi, drinks, and snacks, but you don’t have to show up an hour early.” It may not be easy to find one of these deals on your own, but they’re out there.
Your cabin crew isn’t going to clean up after youOlena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock
Be honest now: Are you one of those people who stuffs your garbage into the seat pocket in front of you, based on the assumption that your cabin crew will clean the plane between flights? Well, we have news, thanks to former flight attendant-turned-travel-expert, Laurie. “Planes are not cleaned after every flight,” she assures Reader’s Digest. “They’re deep-cleaned once per day.” So, when your flight attendant comes around asking for your trash, do everyone on the next flight a favor, and toss that trash.
The carry-on rules aren’t as crazy as you might thinkDing Photo Studio/Shutterstock
Yes, the last 17 years have seen an increase in airport security, but there are a lot of things you can pack in your carry-on that you probably think you can’t, says travel writer, Nina Thomas, whose blog post on the topic lists disposable razors, plastic knives and forks, metal combs, disposable lighters, tweezers, wine bottle openers, aerosol cans, and nail clippers as some of the unexpected things you’re permitted to pack in your carry-on.