“We’ve been cleared to take off. Cabin crew, take your seats.” Statistically, airplanes are still the safest way to travel. But are they really? Have you ever wondered, while uncomfortably buckled up to your 14D seat, what is going on behind the curtain? Sure, the airlines want us to believe they are doing their best to take care of us and make our experience onboard as pleasant as possible. However, there are so many things they are keeping secret from us. From questionable hygiene and pseudo-safety measures to dead bodies onboard, the well-oiled machine of the airline industry has a lot to offer. You have two options here: you can either continue to live (and fly!) in blissful oblivion, or choose to learn what to really expect next time you book a flight.
For the brave ones who are willing to face the truth, we have come up with a list of 15 dirty little (and not that little!) secrets the airlines don’t want the passengers to know.
Ready for take-off?
15. Turning Off Electronics Is Actually Just So You Could Listen To Safety Instructions. That’s It.
When the plane is about to take off, the crew instructs you to turn off all your electronic devices. The conscientious flyer you are, you make sure your mobile phone is in airplane mode because you believe that as long as you’re not using wi-fi or mobile data there is no risk of crashing the plane. However, turning off your phone or laptop makes no difference to the line between the pilot and the air-traffic control. The crew members prefer that you have them switched off so that you could pay attention to the safety messages. But that’s all. In fact, data shows that half of the passengers leave their phones on, because they either ignore the instructions, or just put them in their bags and forget about them.
14. The Overbooking Scam
Airlines intentionally and on a regular basis overbook flights in order to maximize their bottom line and to keep the prices of the tickets down. They don’t make any money unless they’ve reached 75% capacity. If the passengers are not packed like sardines in a box, they are not making any profit. What they hope for is that some people who’ve booked a flight won’t make it to the airport on time or get caught up at security. The chances that your seat has been sold to someone else are actually pretty big! If, however, two passengers happen to claim the same seat, the cabin crew will ask one of them to volunteer to be placed on another flight or to be compensated four times the price of the ticket. But even in this case the airlines are making a profit. On some occasions though, people refuse to get out of the plane and then the airlines are ALLOWED to take some extreme measures. You figure out what exactly! The thing is every time you fly you legally accept the terms and conditions of the airlines, so nothing can really be done if they decide to drag you out of the plane.
13. Your Plane Might Be Missing Screws
It might happen that you look out of the window and notice the wing of your plane is missing screws. Should you start panicking? Not yet! Reportedly, some planes have flown for five days in a row with up to 30 screws missing from their wings. It is actually not that uncommon for screws to be missing. When a plane goes through thorough maintenance, a big part of it is taken apart, including two million fasteners and screws! When the plane is put back together, many of those happen to be misplaced or lost by inattentive workers. Still no place for worry. Normally, there are enough left to keep the heavy machine in the air.
12. Most Airlines Almost NEVER Wash The Blankets And Pillows
From a hygienic point of view and in terms of disease prevention, tightly packing people in small places has never been a good idea. If your neighbor is coughing, you’d better not cover your face with the blanket the airline has provided! Some airlines wash them every five days, but others don’t care much about washing them at all. This means that when you cuddle cozily wrapped in your blanket during a long-distance flight, you are actually sharing the fluids and bacteria of the passengers who used it before you. And don’t let us start on the pillows! People sneeze, and cough, and even fart on their pillows. They are then forwarded to the next passenger. That is you!
11. They Only Have 45 Minutes Worth Of Extra Fuel
FAA requires the planes to take off with ONLY 45 minutes of extra fuel, which means they don’t fill up the tank prior to every flight. These rules focus more on the ability of the plane to land at any nearby airport (or even a highway!) in case of emergency. But sometimes the plane needs to be diverted much farther than the required 45-minute allowance, and that already can be a problem. The 2016 plane crash in Colombia, in which most members of a Brazilian soccer team and 20 journalists were killed, was caused by human mistake. The investigation found out the charter crashed on a wooded hillside near Medellin because the pilot didn’t refuel en route and didn’t report engine failures caused by the lack of fuel until it was too late. As a result, 71 people died, and only six survived the horrific crash.
10. The Oxygen Masks Have Only 12 Minutes Worth Of Air
“In case of emergency the oxygen masks will fall from the ceiling.” You are advised to “breathe normally and note that oxygen is blowing so don’t worry if the masks are not fully inflated.” If you think you will have an unlimited supply of oxygen if something DOES happen, then you are very wrong.
The masks are attached to tanks with only 12 to 15 minutes supply! What is more, the gas that comes out doesn’t start as oxygen. Because oxygen tanks are highly explosive, they put a chemical cocktail in the tanks, which contains barium peroxide – an inorganic compound which is used in fireworks. So, when the masks drop, the first thing you inhale is the peroxide, and then comes the oxygen saving your life. For about 12-15 minutes! Then you are on your own.
9. The Toilets Are Germy And The Tap Water May Contain Poop
The maintenance team regularly cleans the water tanks with sanitizers. This, however, doesn’t disturb at all the parasites which call the tank their home. They’ve become resistant to the chemicals, so sanitizers or not, they just stay there and go on with their peaceful living. And you should thank us for the following advice: Do not, under any circumstances drink tap water on a plane. Don’t even touch it! The ports to purge excrements and refill the aircraft with portable water are within feet from each other, and it’s likely they both are serviced by the same person. What we want to say is that there might be poop in your water!
8. Your Under-Seat Life Jacket Might Be Missing
This is an item that is supposed to save your life in case of emergency. You have no idea though how many of those get stolen by passengers. The crew members don’t bother to check before every flight if they are fully stocked with life jackets. So, what can happen is that you reach for the precious item under your seat, but only to find out it’s missing. FYI, only 33 passengers of 150 aboard US Airways Flight 1549 had a life vest when the plane crashed in the Hudson River in 2009! But not all airplane thieves get away with it. In 2015, a Hong Kong Magistrates Court found a 64-year-old woman from China guilty of stealing a life jacket from a plane. She was fined $2,000.
7. More Than Half Of Pilots Have Slept While Flying
A 2015 BALPA survey showed that 56% of the pilots admitted sleeping while operating a flight, and another 29% said they had woken up to find the co-pilot had also fallen asleep! Fortunately, there is the autopilot which can successfully carry out the pilot’s job… but only for some time. It’s an undeniable fact proven in real life situations that pilot fatigue is three times more a threat to flight safety than any other, really. On long night flights, the pilots take turns for a fifteen minute nap in order to shake their sleepiness. This practice is illegal for U.S. pilots, but totally permitted in the European countries. In the United Kingdom, the pilots are even recommended to take controlled naps during flights.
6. Pilots Often Cover The Windshield With Paper To Block The Sun
The cockpit seems an enigmatic, closed-off ‘temple’, where everything that happens is believed to be with your safety in mind. There are some solid reasons though why many of the activities that are going on in the cockpit stay hidden from the passengers and never broadcasted. One reason is that the pilots’ behavior might shock you big time. If you could only visit the cockpit during a westbound flight in the late afternoon, then you’d witness a funny thing. Pilots use whatever is at hand – papers, maps, even trays – to cover the windshield in order to block the sun. On other occasions, they can be blinded by dense fogs or other climatic occurrences. Fortunately, there is this thing called TCAS, or Traffic Collision Avoidance System, which enables the pilots to see better and farther on the TCAS radar screen than with the naked eye.
5. Almost Every Commercial Flight Has A Dead Body Onboard
Don’t freak out, but we are talking actual corpses here. There might also be exotic animals and organs for transplantation that are being transported by the Red Cross organization. Surely, you don’t believe these things get anywhere by themselves or in a specially provided transport! No worries though. There is zero chance for the plane to be haunted or for you to be attacked by a zombie during a night flight. Before getting them onboard, the cadavers are embalmed. Most human remains are transported in the cargo hold in shipping caskets, which are much lighter than the ones used for funerals.
4. Pilots Prefer Tough Landings So They Can Show Off Their Skills
OK, this might come as a shock, but many pilots PREFER a problematic landing from time to time as it gives them the opportunity to show off their skills. There has been a survey among top-notch pilots, the results of which showed that the most preferred places to land are Gibraltar, Naples and Madeira. Why? Surely not because of the beautiful surroundings. These three airports are commonly considered the hardest landings in Europe, and the pilots need to have special training to land there. So, if you happen to be on a plane to any of these three places, and you by chance see the pilot, complement their landing. That for sure will bring a smile to their faces.
3. The Life Jacket Cannot Save Your Life
Knowing that there is a life jacket under your seat provides some kind of psychological comfort, but that’s pretty much it. Experts question their worth when the passengers must evacuate quickly. First of all, life jackets must be put on properly to be effective, and let’s be honest, even the most frequent flyers don’t bother to learn how it is done. Second of all, you may think the life jackets are there to save your life if the plane ends up in the water. But the fact is no one actually knows if this is possible, because it has NEVER happened in modern commercial airline flying. Another problem stems from the fact that the jackets’ design very much limits their usefulness in crash landings.
2. Cabin Crew Keeps You Onboard Longer Than Needed Because They’re Only Paid While Plane Doors Are Closed
Have you ever wondered why they shut the doors on a plane so early? Actually, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules and regulations, the cabin crew can keep you up to three hours before takeoff. But there is one reason why they’ll close the doors very much ahead of time. The flight attendants are only paid during the duration of a flight, which runs from the moment the plane doors close till they open, and no longer. So, now you understand how financially important it is for them to keep you onboard as long as possible, since they don’t earn salaries.
1. The Cabin Is Gross
Of course, it is not possible to be transported in an isolated oxygen chamber – the one Michal Jackson used to sleep in to avoid all the dirt and germs. Yet, if you remember some simple tips, there is a chance you won’t get much of other people’s DNA on you during a flight. For starters, it’s always a good idea to sanitize the folding table in front of you before the flight attendants place your food and drinks on it. You won’t believe how often people change the diapers of their babies on the tables! And then, it’s not recommended to take off your shoes. We understand how relieving it is to stretch your bare feet a bit during a long flight, but you should keep in mind the floor is filthy. Someone certainly must have vomited just about where you are sitting.