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50 Airplane Facts You’ve Always Been Curious About

Flying can spark a lot of questions about everything from the iffy food to the holes in the airplane windows. Brush up on your airplane trivia, and become an airplane expert before you fly off for your next trip.

the plane with the airfield tractorSturmUfa/Shutterstock

All about airplanes

Whether you’re an airplane enthusiast or a nervous flyer, knowing this trivia about airplanes can help make your next journey smoother and more enjoyable. You should also know these 13 things you should never do at the airport.

Worker Placing Luggage In Trailer Against AirplaneTyler Olson/Shutterstock

What is all that banging noise when you’re boarding?

No worries, they’re not patching up the plane at the last minute. The banging noise that you hear when you’re boarding the plane and right after you land is the cargo that’s being loaded or taken off the plane. It’s directly below the cabin, so it does sound pretty loud.

flight attendantrkl_foto/Shutterstock

How do flight attendants deal with unruly passengers?

If you’re seriously out of control, you may find yourself handcuffed on your flight. Some airlines keep plastic zip-tie cuffs on the plane, while others will allow the flight attendants to cuff the passengers with seat-belt extenders, according to Express. Here are some pet peeves that flight attendants have that while annoying, won’t likely land you in cuffs.

airplane hooksZeeker2526/shutterstock

What are those hooks on the planes’ wings?

Don’t get too nervous, but those bumps contain holes on the wings that make it easier for flight attendants to attach ropes so they can deploy the inflatable slides in case of an emergency water landing. With them, you can hold the rope which will lead you to the inflatable slides and make it out safely, according to Captain Joe. Without the bumps, the wings would be too smooth and slippery for the passengers trying to get to the slide. Here’s more on those little hooks.

Carry-on luggage in overhead storage compartment on commercial airplane.NavinTar/Shutterstock

Why do flight attendants reach upwards as they walk?

They’re not trying to touch the ceiling to show off how tall they are. There’s actually a scalloped spot at the bottom of the overhead compartments and the flight attendants are gripping that as they walk down the aisle so they don’t have to grab your seat to keep their balance, according to Condé Nast Traveler. You can do it too, and you’ll look like a pro. Find out some of the strange rules flight attendants have to follow.

Woman writing on blank notebook while travelling on airplane.T.Dallas/Shutterstock

What’s the best way to calm down during turbulence?

According to Captain Ron Nielsen, a pilot who teaches a fear of flying class, you should try writing your name while your pen is in the hand that you don’t normally use. “It first causes [the passenger] to focus extra-hard on what she’s doing, because she doesn’t normally write with her other hand,” Nielsen told Today. “And the second thing is, it’s actually crossing over her motor function in her brain, using the other side of her brain from what she would normally do.” It’s all about distraction. Here’s what’s really happening during turbulence.

airplane cabin crew rest areaThiago B Trevisan/Shutterstock

Where do pilots sleep?

During those really long flights, pilots and flight attendants need to snooze too, and it’s not so comfy in the cockpit. On many planes, like the Boeing 777 and 787, there are secret places where the pilots and other staff can sleep. For example, there may be a locked door in front or a door that looks like an overhead bin, which secretly leads to a few beds, according to Insider. Passengers and crew alike can benefit from these tips on how to sleep well on an airplane.

Plane interior - cabin with modern leather chair for passenger of airplane. Aircraft seats and window. - Horizontal imageSklo Studio

What happens if someone dies on your flight?

It happens, unfortunately. If there’s an empty row, the flight attendants will bring the body there and cover it with a rug, according to Express. If there’s any way the person can be medically saved in mid-air, the flight will try to land at the closest airport to prevent the death. Find out 19 of the scariest moments pilots have ever experienced on a flight.

unclaimed baggage centerDan Callister/Shutterstock

What do airlines do with lost luggage?

You can actually buy it. There’s a privately run Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, which has exclusive contracts with all the major U.S. airlines. They purchase the luggage declared lost if it has not been picked up in three months. While most of the contents are tossed or donated, the remainder is popped onto the store’s shelves, where you can find everything from diamond rings to designer clothing. One time, a 41-carat emerald which was appraised at $35,000 sold for $17,000, according to Travel & Leisure. If you’ve lost your luggage, here’s what to do next.

Airplane Tray Table on seat back for mockup banner or design advertising on blank area, already closed, copy spaceGuzsudio/Shutterstock

Why are the tray tables so dirty?

Bring your own cleaning wipes for your tray tables, as they’re only cleaned once a day typically—and that’s only overnight, according to Insider. During flights, food is spilled, drool is drooled, and dirty diapers are changed on those tray tables. Often, they’re dirtier than toilet seats, so consider this fair warning. But it’s super easy to clean them: bring your own wipe with you. One swipe should be good (while you’re at it, you may want to wipe down your seat and armrest too, for good measure). Find out 9 other spots airlines aren’t cleaning as well as they should.

Passenger using smartphone for close to us airplane mode.ShutterOK/Shutterstock

Why do you have to put your phone into Airplane Mode?

Perhaps you’ve heard that your little phone can actually interfere with the plane’s navigation or other important equipment? Not quite. Actually, your phone is supposed to be in Airplane Mode because the Federal Communications Commission bans the use of cell phones on the plane to protect against radio interference. So you could potentially pick up service from multiple cell towers, and crowd networks, disrupting your service. Here’s more about why you’ll want to switch your phone over to Airplane Mode.

Ashtray on the plane. Ashtray symbol on the plane. no smoking airplanePhysics_joe/Shutterstock

Why do airplanes have ashtrays?

We’re not allowed to smoke on board a plane, so what’s the point? And U.S. airlines banned smoking decades ago nationally and internationally, so surely by now, they would have rid the planes of the ashtrays, right? Well, since some people (#rulebreakers) still insist on smoking in the plane, they need a safe spot to stub out the cigarettes. It’s safer to do it in an ashtray than in the toilet, which may contain flammable tissues. The ashtrays are actually legally required by the FAA, according to Time. Find out 13 things airlines won’t tell you (but every flier should know).

Pilots at work in cockpitRoman Becker/Shutterstock

Who is in charge on the plane?

The Pilot In Command has unlimited authority whenever the plane doors are closed, according to Think Aviation. The federal regulations allow the PIC to restrain a passenger, write fines, refuse entry to a passenger, and even take a will, Insider says. It’s almost like he’s the president of everything in the sky. Don’t mess with that pilot. Find out 40 things airplane pilots wish you knew.

Airplane seat and window inside an aircraftpaul prescott/Shutterstock

Why are the seats blue?

Not all are blue (Virgin Atlantic’s seats are red, for example) but the majority are blue…because it’s a calm color and it’s easy to keep clean. Pantone named blue the 2020 color of the year due to its ability to instill calm and confidence—key for those who are sitting in those blue seats. Here are more reasons behind those blue seats.

Closeup of man holding passports and boarding pass at airportTravnikovStudio/Shutterstock

What do the codes on your boarding pass mean?

Sure, you probably know about your name, the date, and the seat number. But there are also a few secrets: the first two letters that come before your flight number are the airline. The numbers on your flight number tell you your flight direction (odd-numbers fly south while even numbers fly west); and the six-character segment of text is your passenger name reference, and can be used to find your age, credit card info, and destination. If your boarding pass lands in the wrong hands, it could be a potential security risk.

pregnant mother happy enjoy flight security when go on vacationOdua Images/Shutterstock

What happens if you go into labor on a plane?

Technically, you’re not supposed to fly after you’re 36 weeks pregnant. But things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes that baby wants to get out before he’s due. That’s why some flight attendants are trained to deliver a baby, according to Travel & Leisure. They would still request the help of any doctors on board if they are available and willing to assist. These are 15 of the craziest things flight attendants have ever seen on the job.

Interior inside of the plane with passengers.Dmitri Ma/Shutterstock

Is there a seat on the plane where you’ll most likely get sick?

Yup. According to a study funded by Boeing, conducted by scientists from Emory University and Georgia Tech, those sitting in a sick flier’s row or the seat behind a sick flier will most likely catch their germs and become sick. In fact, if there’s someone sick in your row, that person has an 80 percent chance of infecting everyone in their row, plus the rows directly in front and behind them. The best way to avoid catching a bug is to sit in a window seat. The aisles are the most likely spots for catching and passing germs. Find out the very best seat on the plane for every type of need.

airplane fuelStanislaw Tokarski/Shutterstock

Do airlines try to save money on fuel?

Yes, they’re just like us. But that’s not a great thing, according to a report by Spanish safety investigator that focused on budget airliner Ryanair. Researchers found that a Ryanair plane landed in a Spanish airport in 2010 with less than the legally required amount of fuel required. Apparently, doing this saves the company $5 million annually.

lavatorykanyaphak nakalekha/Shutterstock

Can you unlock the bathroom from the outside?

Yes. In case of emergency, there’s a hidden latch to open an airplane bathroom from the outside. It’s concealed under the bathroom sign, and by flicking it, the door opens. Flight attendants can use this if someone gets sick or if a child becomes stuck in the bathroom, according to Express. Don’t try this on your own—it’s not a latch created so you can play a practical joke on a friend. Here’s how to get out of your seat and to the bathroom without disturbing your neighbor (too much).

Photography of emergency equipment in aircraft at exit door.santi lumubol/Shutterstock

How long does it take for a fire to spread through a plane?

Get ready to run—it takes just 90 seconds for a fire to spread through a plane, and that’s why the FAA requires that aircraft can be evacuated in just 90 seconds. It’s advised to know where all the emergency exits are on the flight and to actually pay attention when the flight attendants offer their safety lessons. Find out the reasons behind seemingly “weird” airplane rules.

Teenage girl looking at plane window during flight. Young passenger travelling by airplane by first time.Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock

What exactly are you breathing?

You may want to hold your breath for this one. The air you’re breathing on the plane is compressed air from the engines, according to Boeing. That air in the compressors warms and pressurizes the air from outside the plane before it’s circulated into the cabin for you to breath. Find out 20 airplane myths you need to stop believing.

Oxygen Mask falling out in Airplane.chrisontour84/Shutterstock

How long can the oxygen masks supply air to you?

Move quickly—once they drop, those oxygen masks can only supply air to you for 12 to 15 minutes, according to the Telegraph. That should be enough time, however. Be sure to wear the mask, as when the cabin loses pressure, you’ll start to feel nauseous and will get a headache without the additional oxygen. Within seconds, you’ll lose consciousness, and you could even die. Find out what would happen if the airplane door were to open mid-flight.


How many parts are in a Boeing 747?

This would be one complicated LEGO model: There are 6 million parts in this commercial airliner, according to the BAA Training Aviation Academy. It was the first large body airplane ever made—and those poor pilots have to control the entire thing with those buttons and switches you see in the cockpit. These are the buttons you hope your pilot will never touch.

Cup or glass of water on a flight. Travel by plane, table with drink.Eivaisla/Shutterstock

What’s up with the plane’s water?

It’s filled with bacteria, apparently. A Wall Street Journal study found that tap water from 14 flights had bacteria of up to hundreds of times above the United States government limits. So make sure you either ask for bottled water or bring your own water bottle to the airport and fill it before you get on your plane. It’s also safe to say that you should avoid the coffee and tea, which is made with that tap water. Here’s more on why you should avoid the plane water.

Asian Woman sitting at window seat in airplane and close the window when airplane take off,traveling conceptweedezign/Shutterstock

What percentage of people are afraid of flying?

If you’re afraid of flying, you’re not alone. More than 80 percent of the population has some degree of fearfulness when it comes to flying, says the BAA Training Aviation Academy. It could be related to acrophobia (fear of heights) or simply the fear of the unknown (how exactly does a plane fly?). Sound like you? Try our strategies to conquer your fear of flying.

Pillow and blanket lying on the seat in the planeAndrew Makedonski/Shutterstock

How often are the blankets washed?

Here’s a dirty little secret: fresh blankets are doled out to passengers on the first flight of the day, if they’re lucky, according to Travel & Leisure. After that, they’re folded and reused and folded and reused again. And a Wall Street Journal report found that the airlines only clean the blankets every five to 30 days. Here’s more on the lifecycle of airplane pillows and blankets.

Woman eating sandwich on planeleungchopan/Shutterstock

Why is it difficult for your body to digest food at 35,000 feet?

The plane’s cabin is pressurized to resemble a 6,000- to 8,000-foot altitude, according to Bustle. But at this altitude, your body can’t absorb as much oxygen. Since your body needs oxygen to break down your food, your digestive system has to work harder to contract at this altitude. Essentially, your digestive system slows and struggles. It’s not your fault. Find out surprising foods you can—and can’t—bring on a plane.

Captain's dinner in the Cockpit Mario Hagen/Shutterstock

Why do pilots eat different meals?

It’s just in case one of them gets sick from the meal. This all stems back to an incident in 1982 when passengers and crew aboard a flight from Boston to London became sick after eating the same tapioca pudding and the flight had to turn around. Today, the pilot and co-pilot eat different meals just in case. Anthony Bourdain also refused to eat plane food—any and all plane food.

Hand of asian man unfasten seatbelt .migrean/Shutterstock

What’s the number one cause of accidents to passengers?

It’s turbulence. And most of these injuries are sustained by people who aren’t following the directions and refused to snap-in. That’s why you should always wear your seatbelt—even when the flight seems to be smooth—just in case, as turbulence can hit unexpectedly at any time. This is the real reason flights are experiencing more turbulence.

Pregnant woman traveling by plane. Air travel. Is it save to travel during pregnancy?baranq/Shutterstock

Why do our bodies become so bloated on a plane?

Blame it on the air pressure. While the cabin is pressurized, the air pressure decreases after take-off, and the cabin’s air expands by 30 percent. As a result, gases in your stomach and small intestine are likely to expand and lead to bloating.  If you want to minimize this effect, don’t eat foods that can cause gas, such as cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower. These foods can help you beat jet lag.

Empty aircraft seats close to emergency door exitYuttapol Phetkong/Shutterstock

What percentage of those involved in a plane crash survive?

A whopping 95 percent, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. Even within the most serious plane crashes, 55 percent of passengers and crew still survive. Wearing your seatbelt, wearing non-flammable clothing and understanding where the exit rows are will increase your chances of survival. Knowing how to survive a plane crash will also up your chances.

Serious male pilot flying a airplane.christinarosepix/Shutterstock

Do pilots sleep while they’re flying?

The answer is unfortunately yes. Up to half of pilots surveyed in the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden report having fallen asleep while flying a passenger plane. And even if they’re not sleeping, they may still be making mistakes in the air because they’re tired. The study found that three out of five pilots in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark say they made mistakes because they were tired; in Germany, four out of five did this. But 70 to 80 percent of tired pilots say they wouldn’t tell anyone they were unfit to fly due to possible disciplinary action. Find out the meaning behind 15 secret phrases you might hear your pilot say on your next flight.

Flight signs above passenger chair in planeFotokon/Shutterstock

Why is the seatbelt sign turned on at 10,000 feet?

It’s actually arbitrary, Captain Han Hee-seong told CNN. While flight attendants may tell you to put your seatbelt on at a certain time depending on the height of the aircraft, they’re really just giving you a random excuse to make sure your seatbelt is on. In other words, just put your seatbelt on when you sit down, and you’ll be golden. Find out three secret messages pilots send via the seat belt sign.

frontier airlines budget airlinerobert cicchetti/Shutterstock

What’s the difference between a budget airline and a higher-end airline?

The airplanes are actually the same, according to CNN, usually a Boeing 737, a Boeing 777, or an Airbus 330. The crew have all taken the same tests and are held to the same standards. The only difference is the inside of the plane: some aircraft have seats that are closer together, some have better food, some allow more baggage, and so on. But they’ll all get you from point A to point B. Here’s what it’s like to fly for one of the world’s best airlines.

Photo of an airplane turbine detailSasaStock/Shutterstock

How much does an engine weigh?

Each engine on a Boeing 747 weighs almost 9,500 pounds, according to the BAA Aviation Training. Perhaps that’s because it’s made up of 6 million parts. It also costs a pretty penny: you’ll have to spend about $8 million to purchase one of these whoppers. Get a peek at the largest airplane in the world.

Portion of food for one passenger at airplane board. Indian dish on a folding table on Board the airliner Food served in the plane in economy class. The food in the plane of the top view.diy13/Shutterstock

How many calories does the average person consume on a flight?

Perhaps you’re eating because you’re nervous or maybe you’re just bored. According to Oxford professor Charles Spence, author of Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating, the average person consumes more than 3,400 calories during a flight, which is nearly double the recommended daily allowance. Plus, these meals have more salt and sugar within them to make them taste better (you need 20 to 30 percent more sugar and salt on a plane to make the meal taste like it would on the ground, due to our inability to taste on a plane). Here’s more on why you should never eat food on a plane.

Full length side portrait of young black woman walking with suitcase in airportmimagephotography/Shutterstock

What percentage of people have been on an airplane?

The airports are busy, the planes are packed, and it seems like everyone you know is taking off on a beautiful vacay. But only 5 percent of the world’s population has ever been on an airplane, according to the BAA Aviation Training. The majority of people from underdeveloped and third-world regions have never been on one and will never be on one. And only a minority of the world’s population boards a plane regularly. Find out very important things you should know about your passport.


How much does airplane food cost?

An economy meal costs an average of $10.50, says Anne De Hauw from catering company Gate Group. A business-class meal costs an average of $33 per passenger, as it includes a higher-end meal plus more expensive serving supplies. Most people on a plane desire comfort food, and that’s what they’re given. Find out the best airlines for economy class fliers.

Italy, female pilot in an airplane's cockpitAngelo Giampiccolo/Shutterstock

What are the vision requirements for a pilot?

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that pilots have 20/20 distant vision, 20/40 near vision, and 20/40 intermediate vision. Don’t have it? Pilots can wear glasses or have surgery. Military pilots have different requirements depending on their military branches, but as of 2007, they are allowed to have PRK or Lasik eye surgery. Read on to find out 15 secrets airports don’t want you to know.

Small hole in airplane window.Brastock/Shutterstock

Why is there a hole in airplane windows?

If you’ve ever been nervous about the little hole in your airplane window, don’t fret. The hole is necessary to regulate cabin pressure. Airplane windows are made up of multiple panels, so the hole helps the middle panel from becoming stressed with pressure during flight. Next time you have airplane questions about safety, rest assured that the tiny hole in your window isn’t a problem. Here are the 16 air travel mistakes to stop making before your next flight.

Close-up of window and seats of an airplaneshipfactory/Shutterstock

Why don’t windows and seats always line up on airplanes?

It can seem a little odd that windows and seats don’t always line up on planes, but airlines are actually to blame. When the YouTube channel Today I Found Out tackled the subject, it found out that seats aren’t placed with any regard to where windows are because the airlines decide how many rows of seats there will be on each plane, and not every airline decides on the same number of rows.

Taking off the passenger airplaneDushlik/Shutterstock

Why are airplanes always white?

“The main reason why aircraft are painted white or light colors is to reflect sunlight and minimize both the heating and potential damage from solar radiation,” John Hansman, a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, says. “It’s basically the same as putting sunblock on.” White airplanes also helps airlines spend less to cool the cabin and protects parts of the plane that are susceptible to heat damage. Here’s more on why airplanes are usually white.

Food served on board of economy class airplane on the tableAureliy/Shutterstock

Why does airplane food taste so bad?

If eating airline food has left a bad taste in your mouth, you’re not alone. When you’re that high in the air, your sense of taste dulls, so it isn’t necessarily the food’s fault. While that may be true, Harold McGee, a scientist and the author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, says it doesn’t help that airplane food has to be chilled and stored for long periods of time. Learn the 13 things you should never eat on an airplane.

Passengers traveling by a plane, shot from the inside of an airplaneCatwalkPhotos/Shutterstock

What’s the safest seat on an airplane?

While most airline companies and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintains that there is no safest seat, a look at hard data about airline accidents from Popular Mechanics found that it’s safer in the back. The investigation found that passengers near the tail of the plane were 40 percent more likely to survive a crash than those in the front. So next time you book a flight, you might want to get a seat in the back.

Cabin inside the aircraft, lights and signsValentyna Chukhlyebova/Shutterstock

Why do cabin crews dim the lights when a plane lands?

One of the most unknown facts about airplanes is that cabins dim the lights during landing for security preparation reasons. Dimming the lights is a precautionary measure that allows a passenger’s eyes to adjust to the darkness. That way, if something goes wrong on the descent, everyone’s eyes will already be adjusted for evacuation. Here’s what 9 common airplane noises mean.

airplane contrailGoBOb/Shutterstock

What are the white trails that planes leave in the sky?

Those white lines in the sky are called vapor trails or contrails, and they are the result of aviation fuel being burned. When the fuel is burned, it produces carbon dioxide and water, which condenses into tiny droplets behind a plane in the air. If you pay close attention, you can see that there’s always a gap between a plane and the vapor trails—that’s because it takes time for the gas to form as droplets. The more you know!

Open door to a large airliner as seen from the stairs.VanderWolf Images/Shutterstock

Can a plane door actually open mid-flight?

Rest assured, it cannot. In fact, it’s actually impossible. The cabin pressure simply won’t let you. As explains, “At a typical cruising altitude, up to eight pounds of pressure are pushing against every square inch of the body of the aircraft. That’s over 1,100 pounds against each square foot of door.” Here are some other things you should never, ever do on a plane.

Lightning flashed behind the planeDushlik/Shutterstock

Is flying in lightning safe?

Flying in lightning is generally safe because planes are built to withstand lightning strikes. The metal from the plane serves as protection, and aircraft have lightning protection systems to fight electrical build-up. In fact, the safest place to be in a lightning storm is inside a metal cage such as an aircraft. The FAA even estimates that every plane currently in service in the United States gets hit by lightning at least once a year. How’s that for some airplane trivia?

Woman feeling earache on airplane suffering from depressurisingBernardo Emanuelle/Shutterstock

Why do your ears pop while flying?

Ear popping can be an unfortunate side effect of flying, but it isn’t one that can be remedied easily. Ears pop because when planes get higher in the sky, the surrounding atmosphere becomes thinner. The air inside the cabin, however, is pressurized to a different level, and according to, this causes the air trapped in our bodies (and ears) to expand. While there’s no way around this happening, experts recommend chewing gum or yawning to sort your ears out. This is the surprising reason most airports are carpeted.

security at airportMilosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

Why can’t you take a bottle of water through security?

Even the best people at airplane trivia might not know why bottled water is such a no-no in security lines. You can’t take a bottle of water through security because it causes both safety and time issues. While TSA security scanners are advanced, they have trouble telling a full bottle of water apart from a bottle of chemicals. TSA allows liquids in small doses, but they have to go through separate from your carry-on luggage.

Interior of commercial airplane with unrecognizable passengers on their seats during flight shot from the rear of airplane.Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

Why are airplane seats so cramped?

The lack of space in an airplane seat can be boiled down to one word: money. The more people an airline can fit into an airplane, the more money they can make. A study by travel analyst Bill McGee in 2014 revealed that space between seats has actually been reduced over the years. Since 1990, the space between airplane seats has been reduced by two to five inches. Next up, learn the airplane myths you need to stop believing.

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff, and Instagram at danikarp.

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