For most of us, planes are these huge metal birds we have little knowledge about. And pilots? Well, they’re basically magicians. How in the world do they manage to get a 90,000 pounds metal machine up in the air and carry us across countries? (You can expect to add 84,000 pounds (38,000 kilos) of fuel, passengers, and baggage to that number to get a maximum takeoff weight of 174,000lbs (79,000 kilos). Unless you personally know a pilot, it’s hard to find answers.
Luckily, we have the answers to people’s most common questions (and funniest misconceptions) about aviation. Have you ever wondered what pilots fear more, lightning or hail? Or whether they eat the same food as ordinary passengers? Go through the list to find out.
What Citizenship Do Airborne Babies Claim?
Even though pregnant women are advised not to board a plane after week 36, there’s always the option that a bundle of joy might pop out mid-flight. And when that happens, the nationality question naturally arises. To what country does your “skyborn” baby belong?
There are a few options. Usually, the baby will automatically receive his mother or father’s nationality. However, some of these babies might be granted citizenship of the country they flew over at the time of birth. Another option is to give the baby citizenship of the country the plane is headed to.
Is It Better to Crash Into Rough Land or Cold Water?
Intuitively, many of us might feel that landing on water is a better choice than crashing into hard land. But many pilots would disagree. While both scenarios are horrific, landing on water can be a bit more disastrous. Planes can get easily flooded when they crash into the deep end.
And although water seems like a smoother surface than rough land, pilots see it as a tricky platform to land on because of its inconsistent density. Oh, and of course, some waters are shark-infested. So that’s never good. But then again, the Amazon rainforest is full of poisonous snakes and deadly mosquitoes. The bottom line, most pilots prefer land.
Is It Possible to Open the Doors During a Flight?
As long as the plane is in the air, all doors, including emergency doors, are shut and cannot be opened until the end of the flight. Not just due to safety reasons but also because the pressure makes it physically impossible to open.
The air at high altitudes keeps the doors shut tight, and no button can unlock them unless the plane either lowers down a bit or lands. And even if you could magically open the door mid-flight, you would instantly grow delirious by the lack of oxygen and pass out in less than a minute.
Does Our Toilet Waste Drop Into the Ocean?
That aggressive “swoosh” you get after flushing the plane’s toilet has got to be one of the most startling noises ever. And it gets you wondering, is the toilet waste being sucked right out of the plane and into the ocean? The answer is no.
Contrary to what many believe, our waste travels through pipes until it reaches the plane’s waste tank. Once on the ground, a truck arrives with a hose and sucks out all the aircraft’s waste. Afterward, both truck and plane are cleaned using a disinfecting product.
Is There a Way to Access the Cockpit From the Outside?
The cockpit door is always closed, and it’s also locked from within. But what if a freak accident happens, and, for example, both pilots faint? Many people wonder if there’s a way to access the cockpit from the outside. Luckily, the answer is yes.
The door has a unique code the crew is aware of. So, if anything bizarre happens, a flight attendant can enter the code and access the room. There’s also a camera allowing the pilot to see who’s at the door, so he can decide whether to let the person in.
Are Pilots Allowed to Sport Piercings and Long Beards?
Pilots have to remain squeaky clean when they’re on board, and that means no piercings and no facial hair. The reason goes beyond aesthetic purposes and has to do with safety. Pilots have to ensure that their oxygen masks fit properly.
No strands of hairs are allowed (unless they’re really thin and small). So next time you see a pilot clean, shaved, and smooth as a baby’s butt, thank him for taking all the safety precautions needed to ensure the flight goes well.
What Happens if the Engines Fail to Work?
A malfunctioning engine is every passenger’s worst nightmare (after snakes on a plane). But don’t worry, the plane won’t drop dead the second the engine fails. It can glide, similar to the way cars can move down slopes on neutral.
And even if one engine starts to create problems, airplanes have multiple power backups up instead. Some planes have four jet engines, some have six, and each engine works independently from the others.
How Long Can You Breathe Through Oxygen Masks?
Passengers don’t normally have to wear masks because the plane’s oxygen level allows for proper breathing. But there are instances when the cabin becomes depressurized at a high altitude, and in those cases, you’ll need to apply one to avoid passing out.
Oxygen masks last between 10-14 minutes. And that’s more than enough time to allow the pilot to reduce the plane’s altitude and balance things out again. For those wondering about electrical problems cutting off the oxygen, the system is independent of electricity and uses individual oxygen generators.
Are Pilots Allowed to Sleep?
Pilots are allowed to nap, especially when they’re dealing with long, tiring flights. Their rest can be divided into two categories: bunk sleep and controlled rest. Bunk sleep is common on long-haul flights and allows the pilot a few hours of sleep (after being replaced by a different pilot).
Controlled rest is more like a power nap and is usually around 10-20 minutes (up to 45). These short periods of rest are crucial and help keep the pilots alert. As with bunk sleep, all power naps have to be discussed and agreed upon by both pilots.
Why Do Some Planes Circle Before Landing?
There’s no need to be frightened if you realize the plane is circling around before landing. The pilot could be maneuvering in the air to stall for time, either because many planes are landing at once or due to unfavorable weather.
Snow, heavy fog, and thunderstorms can reduce visibility and make landing a lot more complicated. So, if you look at the clock and realize you should have arrived 10 minutes ago, no worries. The pilot is doing the best he can to land properly.
Can a Plane Land on Its Own?
Planes today are equipped with an “autoland” system that guides the aircraft to the point of landing while the pilot monitors the process. This automatic system is usually used when visibility is poor, and the pilot has no chance of understanding where the runway is.
But, for the most part, pilots prefer to land manually. They find it less demanding than vigilantly monitoring the automated process.
Do Pilots Have Time to Eat?
People assume that the food onboard is either regular, kosher, or vegetarian. But there’s another category we’re not aware of. Pilots (sometimes) receive different food than the passengers. And each pilot (usually) eats a different meal than his co-worker.
This is meant to prevent a catastrophic event in which the whole plane gets sick with food poisoning. So, if one pilot eats fish, the other eats chicken or beef instead. Some even prefer to bring their own food in a Tupperware container.
Why Do Some Pilots Sit in the Passenger Seats?
When passenger seats aren’t being used, pilots can get comfortable and sit among the crowd. But that doesn’t mean they’re allowed to behave like ordinary commuters. While you’re allowed to put on your earphones and rest, pilots have to remain alert and on their best behavior.
This is to reduce any panicking among the passengers. It’s not the most “professional” sight to see the pilot snoring away right next to you (when they take their rests, they either do it in the cockpit or in an area where passengers can’t see them).
Lightning, Hailstorms, or Large Birds?
Hitting a bird is, tragically, almost always fatal for the bird involved, but not so much for the aircraft. Unless we’re talking about a large bird getting sucked into the turbine. Because in that case, it can really mess up the engine and even cause a crash.
If lightning strikes, there’s a chance it will cause a complete blackout. But planes are designed to jump back pretty quickly from those situations, and it’s fairly easy to get the system going again. And hailstorms? They can cause incredible damage. So out of the three, most pilots agree on hailstorms being the worst. But it all depends on the specific situation.
What Are the Spirals For?
Spirals are placed on turbines to make sure people know when they’re rolling and when they’re static. That way, no one gets injured. While you probably won’t find yourself that close to one, it’s always important to take precautionary measures.
The spirals might also be useful as bird repellants. Unfortunately, not all planes have marked their engines, but most maintenance engineers agree that it’s a valuable mark and can save the plane a lot of trouble.
Is a Passenger Able to Land a Plane?
If the thought of a heroic passenger replacing an unconscious pilot has crossed your mind, you’re not the only one. This dramatic, straight-out-of a movie scene has been considered by almost every person in the world. So let’s see, can an ordinary mogul really land a plane?
If we’re talking about a modern plane, then yes. The new designs aircraft have today allow for landing and the majority of the flight to be as automatic as possible. So any amateur can successfully land the plane as long as they follow the instructions. But old planes require a high level of skill and knowledge that can only be acquired with proper training.
Why Don’t We All Have Parachutes?
Some people wonder why we don’t just have emergency parachutes under our chairs. If the plane is speeding towards open waters, let’s just jump out and slowly glide down, right? Sadly, no. Allowing passengers to parachute their way down isn’t a reasonable option.
A person has to be either well-trained to use a parachute or have a guide accompany them on their journey. And when you’re 16,000 above feet, even the most skillful parachuter risks making an unsuccessful jump.
Are Pilots Scared of Flights?
If pilots were seriously terrified of flying, they would have probably considered a different career path. In general, none of us have a reason to be too scared of flights. According to statistics, it’s the safest way to travel. The annual risk of being involved in a crash is about 1 in 11 million.
But the fact that pilots aren’t afraid doesn’t mean they’re sitting cross-legged and yawning the whole trip. They’re aware of the many lives they’re responsible for and always do their best to ensure nothing goes wrong.
Should We Applaud When the Plane Lands?
It’s always a relief to land safely at your destination. And while you slept, listened to music, binged, watched movies, and picked on your younger sibling, the crew was (hopefully) attentive and behaved like true professionals the whole way. So should you applaud the pilots after landing?
It’s not really necessary. Just like you normally wouldn’t applaud your bus driver or sailor, pilots are the same deal. They’re simply doing their job. But if you feel like giving them that extra gesture of appreciation, feel free! They’re always grateful for it.
Is Music Allowed in the Cockpit?
Music is an incredible way to pass the time as you travel from destination to destination. Each song brings with it a different story, allowing your brain to imagine all sorts of scenarios. But do pilots enjoy the same opportunity as we do when they fly?
Unfortunately, no. Music in the cockpit is prohibited unless there’s a waiting period in which the plane isn’t operating and no passengers are on board. Ahhh…what a shame. Can you imagine how fun it would be to see the vast sky in front of you as you listen to your favorite artist?
Are Planes Prepared For Medical Emergencies?
While planes aren’t considered flying clinics, they’re still prepared to tackle the problems at hand. All crew members receive medical training to ensure that they know what to do in case emergency strikes in midair.
So while they don’t go through years of medical school, they still know the basics and are trained to do CPR. Apart from the crew, there’s always a chance that one of the passengers might be a trained nurse or doctor, and in that case, even though they don’t necessarily have to, they usually offer to help.
Are Pilots Required to Speak in English?
Some people wonder whether there are general language pilots are required to use. For the most part, yes, English. But there some cases where the language used is the language of the airline you’re flying. For example, pilots from Spanish airlines often speak Spanish on the radio.
And some Canadian airlines choose to use French as the common language onboard. So, while English is the universal choice for international communication, you might still hear the pilot speak his mother tongue sometimes.
How Do Pilots Communicate with the Control Center?
Pilots used to communicate with the control room only through speaking. Still, today, due to technological advances, they’re able to contact them through texts: less noise and fewer mistakes of not hearing what the other person said.
But the use of text doesn’t cancel the voice option. Pilots are still free to speak up, and some even prefer to do so and feel that verbal communication is a lot easier for them. And hearing various other accents as you travel the world is always entertaining.
What Can Pilots Bring Into the Cockpit?
The cockpit needs to remain as sterile as possible. This means no coffee mugs, no books, and little to no personal belongings. Pilots also aren’t allowed to bring their own headsets on board (unless it’s one’s private jet).
They can bring their own cap or a pillow for their back, but other than a few modifications here and there, they’re not allowed much. Better stick to the instructions and not mess around with the plane’s equipment.
Why Do Some Flights in the Middle East Take Off at Night?
Planes are steadier and easier to control in low temperatures. The reason for that has to with air density. In short, cold air is denser than warm. So, flying during the day is a bit problematic in the middle east (where it’s extremely hot).
That’s why many airlines schedule their flights at midnight when the air is cool and dense. But today, modern airplanes are designed to get around density issues, so more and more airlines are offering normal flight hours.
Do We Have to Activate Airplane Mode?
No plane has crashed because someone turned on their mobile phone, right? So do we really need to switch on the little plane sign? The answer is yes. When you’re on a plane, the responsible thing to do is to disconnect yourself from your regular network and activate plane mode.
While some people are skeptical about how much cellphones really interfere, it’s always best to stay on the safe side and cause as little interruption as possible. Planes usually offer a colorful list of movies and albums to pick from. So there’s really no need for our phones anyway.
Are Planes Affected By Lightning Strikes?
The answer might scare you a bit but yes. Although airplanes are vulnerable to lightning strikes, they are designed to withstand violent electrocutions. Their outer skin is primarily aluminum, which is good for conducting electricity.
So, the best possible scenario when lightning strikes is for the current to flow through the plane’s skin without interruption. The worst-case scenario is for the lightning strike to blow up the fuel tank. But that’s extremely rare.
What Do the Green and Red Lights Signify?
The green and red lights on a plane’s wings aren’t some form of crafty Christmas-y design (although the thought of Christmas is always comforting). The blinking lights on both sides of the plane are used to notify other aircraft.
It’s a much-needed precautionary measure that allows other pilots to know what direction you’re flying in. That way, they can make the proper adjustments and minimize the risk of collision.
If Smoking Isn’t Allowed, Why Are There Ashtrays?
We all know smoking is prohibited in planes, yet you can still find ashtrays on board. That’s because people are unreliable creatures at times, and in case someone decides to light one, the plane has to have a safe place to dispose of it.
If a passenger chooses to enjoy a good smoke next to their glass of wine, the flight attendant has to react and stop them immediately. Inflight smoking was allowed before the ’90s, but thankfully, today, the law doesn’t allow it anymore.
Why Do Airplane Meals Lack Taste?
Airplane food has a bad reputation. But is it actually nasty, or are our taste buds fooling us? There are two answers to this. One, preparing a large quantity of food often means compromising in its taste. So, that could be why airplane food doesn’t taste the best.
But science has given us another reason as to why it tastes so bland. Research points to our tongue and claims that a large portion of our taste buds grow numb at high altitudes, causing the food to lack any proper taste.
Can the Glass Window Crack?
Have you ever looked outside a plane’s window and wondered what would happen if it suddenly shattered? You’re not the only one. Many people wonder if the pressure outside can crack the glass and mercilessly suck them out into the sky.
Thankfully, the answer is no. The window is made up of a few layers, and its design gives it enough reinforcement to prevent breakage of any sort. So, as you look out into the clouds, put all your worries to rest. The windows are secure and won’t break.
Why Are the Lights Turned Off During Landing?
As if landing and flying isn’t scary enough, the lights are also dimmed in those critical moments. But the reason for that isn’t to creep you out. It’s for your eyes to get used to the darkness in case of an emergency.
“Dimming the lights allows your eyes to re-adjust to darkness so that you’re not suddenly blinded if something happens and the power goes out, and you’re dashing for the doors in darkness or smoke.” Pilot Patrick Smith told The Telegraph.
How Many Pilots Ae Normally on a Plane?
With smart planes that can practically land themselves without any assistance, you can’t help but wonder how many pilots are even needed onboard? Especially if the flight is short. But, in truth, replacements are always handy, and they’re a crucial part of the trip.
How many pilots will usually depend on the length of the journey, but airplanes can have up to four. And for short flights, the number is usually two. On long flights, a large number of pilots gives each one more time to rest.
What Time Zone Do Airlines Use?
Time varies all across the globe, and planes often fly through time zones. Generally, pilots use the Universal Time Coordinated (UTC), a universally accepted time format, also known as Zulu or, previously, Greenwich time.
The flight’s departure and landing time are in terms of the country of takeoff and country of destination. So, if you’re flying from one end of the globe to the other, prepare yourself for a bit (or a lot) of jet lag.
Do Pilots Have Time to Enjoy the Places They Fly To?
It depends on the pilot’s layover time. But generally, yes. Like the rest of the plane’s crew, pilots have the wonderful opportunity to explore the places they fly to. If it’s a one-way trip, pilots can spend the night in the city.
For shorter trips, they’re allowed only a few hours of exploration. But some flight intervals are so tight that pilots barely have an hour for themselves. So really, it all depends on the time.
Can Pilots Leave the Cockpit if the Plane Is on Autopilot?
Aviation rules clearly state that the pilot should remain in the cockpit at all times. So, autopilot doesn’t mean the crew can sit back, relax, and snuggle up with a cup of coffee and a book. The pilot needs to remain in the cockpit and monitor the flight.
If the pilot needs to use the toilet or leave the cockpit for whatever reason, he’s allowed to do so only if another pilot fills in for him. So, even on autopilot, monitoring is always necessary.
How Difficult Is Starting a Plane?
In general, the entire process of igniting an engine is intricate. But, thankfully, advances in technology have simplified the process for us, and modern modifications have allowed for things to fire up in a matter of seconds.
But despite the ease, the pilot is still required to know what buttons to push and how to start things properly so the process will go as smooth as possible. Instructions have to be carried out with a lot of precision and care.
Can Pilots Fly All Types of Planes?
Yes, in that sense, flying a plane is similar to driving a car. Once you get your driver’s license, you’re able to drive almost any car (apart from trucks and busses).
The same rule goes for aviation. Pilots are trained to fly almost all aircraft types because the basic controls are the same for all planes (although technical features will vary a bit).
How Dangerous Is Turbulence?
No matter how brave you are, turbulence on a plane can definitely put you on edge. It’s hard to ignore the violent thrusts from side to side and overall tension in the air. And although it feels like the end of the world, it’s quite common and rarely dangerous.
According to pilots, turbulence is just rough air that causes a bit of discomfort, that’s all. Many assume that during turbulence, the plane is thrown off balance and drops hundreds of feet. But, in fact, the minor change in altitude is no more than 20 feet.
What Happens if the Landing Gear Fails?
If something goes wrong with the plane’s landing gear and it’s unable to touch down properly, it performs a “belly landing.” That form of landing doesn’t come without risks, but it’s definitely possible to carry it out carefully and with minimal damage.
The worst-case scenario with a belly landing is that the plane flips over and catches fire. So, the pilot has to be extremely precise and well trained to ensure the aircraft remains stable and steady as it touches down and glides across the runway.
Is It Safe to Fly During a Storm?
It isn’t the safest time to fly, that’s for sure. And usually, pilots avoid flying in thunderstorms just like people avoid driving in blizzards, and captains avoid sailing across waters when there are monster waves in the distance.
Still, it’s possible to fly during a storm, and pilots have flown numerous times in troublesome weather. The event usually catches them unexpectedly, but, thankfully, aircraft are designed to cope with lightning strikes and turbulence, so most of the time, no serious harm is done.
How Likely Are Plane Crashes?
In the ’60s and ’80s, plane crashes were a lot more probable than they are today. Bombing and technical malfunctions were way more common back then, but lucky for us, planes today are considered the safest form of transportation.
However, you’re always at risk when you travel from one place to another (this is true for other forms of transportation as well). But plane crashes shouldn’t cross your mind the next time you book a flight. The chances of an accident are very, very low.
How Does One Become a Pilot?
Some pilots gain their experience in the military, but some prefer to build up their reputation in civilian flight schools. You’ll have to complete a certain amount of flight hours to earn a commercial pilot license.
Apart from flight hours, you’ll have to pass numerous exams and earn various certificates. Some airlines require you to have a degree, but not all of them. But having a degree will definitely help broaden your work opportunities.
Can a Pilot in Training Operate an Actual Flight?
Don’t be too alarmed, but the answer is yes. Pilots in training operate regular flights with passengers and all. But the pilot isn’t left unsupervised. He has to fly under the command of a training captain for a set amount of time.
Learning to fly in real circumstances is the best training possible. This happens, of course, after the pilot in training has finished their classroom exams and simulations.
Is the Pilot Really Doing Much?
People believe pilots don’t do much and leave it all to autopilot. But that’s a complete misconception. Indeed, pilots, today don’t spend much time physically navigating the plane and don’t have their hands on the control column at all times, but they’re still responsible for the whole procedure.
Pilots have many protocols to follow and a strict set of rules they need to obey to ensure that the flight goes without problems. So, as a passenger, you can kick back and relax. Your pilot is always on his guard.
Why Do Planes Typically Fly at 35,000 Feet?
Typically, altitudes range from 30,000 feet to 40,000. The higher the plane, the less fuel is burned. So, the main reason most planes fly at 35,000 feet is due to fuel efficiency. The aircraft needs less fuel when the air is thin.
But the altitude also varies according to the plane’s design and traffic control’s commands. Even though the aircraft can fly higher than its current altitude, it doesn’t mean it will. Traffic control might tell the pilot to reduce altitude due to weather conditions.
What Are Those White Lines in The Sky?
White lines in the sky may seem alarming the first few times you see them. It kind of looks like the plane is slowly catching fire, leaving smoky white trails behind. But, thankfully, that’s not the case. The white lines are called condensation trails.
Contrails happen when hot vapor from the plane comes into contact with the cool air in the atmosphere. It’s kind of like the white smoke that comes out of our noses and mouths in the winter. Our body’s heat with the cold air creates that smoky effect.
Why Are There Little Holes on the Windows?
The little hole you see on the window is called a “bleed hole,” and its main purpose is to regulate the air pressure. The window has three layers, and there’s a small gap between the middle and outer layer. So, the bleed hole’s job is to balance out the pressure between the cabin and the air gap.
Another interesting function of the little hole is to release moisture, which minimizes the frost on your window, allowing for a better view.
Are There Any Secret Rooms?
As passengers, we don’t get to see much of the plane. Usually, we stick to our seats and the nearby toilet. So, it makes sense that people wonder whether the aircraft has “secret rooms.” Interestingly, these secret areas do exist.
Usually, these rooms are for crew members who have been traveling for long periods of time (close to 18 hours) and need to get some sleep. These rooms include beds, toilets, and refreshments. But not all planes have them.
Can the Plane’s Tires Burst?
Airplane tires are fascinating. They’re tiny, yet they’re able to move the plane’s entire weight across the runway. But is there any chance they’ll burst? The answer is no. A typical plane tire can withstand around a 38-ton load.
They’re usually inflated to 200 psi, which is about six times what you put in your car’s tire. So, even though the plane’s tires aren’t incredibly large, they’re still super pumped up and strong enough to carry the aircraft’s weight.