Some airline passengers feel anxiety the moment they walk into an airport terminal before checking in for their flight. It doesn’t get any better waiting in a long line at the TSA security, hearing their “zone” announced at the boarding gate, and finally settling into the assigned seat. Others, (most often seasoned travelers), just kick back, relax, and glance at the airline magazine before takeoff.
Air travel is the safest mode of mass transportation. A passenger in an automobile is more likely to meet their end in an accident than a passenger in a plane crash.
Harvard University risk communication professor, David Ropeik says the odds of being in a life-ending auto accident are about one in 5,000. The odds in a plane crash are about one in 11,000,000. Furthermore, the probability of being struck by lightning is nearly the same at one in 13,000 for a lifetime.
However, risks do exist. Here are twenty facts about planes that may make anyone reconsider before flying again.
Statistics show that air travel is perhaps the safest way to travel. However, accidents do happen. According to a Boeing study, if an accident does occur, the probability of it happening during certain parts of a flight is higher than others.
The Boeing analysis included worldwide commercial flights from 2007 to 2016. The results showed that 48 percent of all fatal accidents occur during a flight’s final descent and landing.
While airplane cabins look spotlessly clean when passengers board, they aren’t nearly as clean as they look. With more people flying than ever, the in-flight staff have less time to do a thorough cleansing.
Surprisingly, microbiologists have found tray tables (the most-used part of the cabin by passengers) to be the least hygienic surface on an airplane.
Commercial airplanes get struck by lightning all the time.
Scientific American reports estimate on average, “each airplane in the U.S. commercial fleet is struck lightly by lightning more than once each year.” Furthermore, an airplane that travels through a heavily charged region of a cloud can actually trigger a lightning strike.
Fortunately, engineers ensure that modern planes are designed to withstand lightning strikes.
Airplane oxygen masks are not filled with oxygen but contain chemicals. When a passenger pulls on the mask, iron oxide and sodium perchlorate mix together. The resultant chemical reaction yields oxygen.
The mask will supply oxygen only for about 15 minutes which, under normal conditions, allows enough time for the pilot to navigate to a safe altitude.
Many passengers believe that exposure to radiation occurs from the TSA’s full-body scanner or perhaps from the baggage X-ray machines.
However, more radiation exposure occurs in flight. Scientific American states, “The major source of radiation exposure from air travel comes from the flight itself.” At high altitude, “Thinner air…means fewer molecules to deflect incoming cosmic rays — radiation from outer space.”
Self-flying or autonomous aircraft may exist at some point in the future, but current airplanes still require a pilot. However, most commercial flights use an autopilot. A pilot will generally handle the takeoff and then initiate the autopilot to take over for the remainder of the flight. While aviation regulations differ by countries, the U.S. requires at least two crew members always remain in the cockpit.
Most airlines require electronic devices to be turned off during part of the flight to eliminate radio waves that pose a risk to avionics technology on planes.
Airline pilots state they require passengers to store their laptops during takeoff and landing, but not for reasons of electronic interference. The computer can become a projectile should the aircraft encounter unusual turbulence or come to an abrupt stop.
If an aircraft emergency door is opened during flight passengers in the vicinity would be sucked out, those far away would be immediately frozen, and the plane would break apart.
While the event would be a disaster, it is impossible for the doors to open mid-flight. The high cabin pressure prevents it. All the doors open inward first, and even the strongest man (or several men) cannot overcome the force keeping the door shut.
The Department of Transportation has put such a high priority on accurate flight arrival times; airlines have taken extreme measures to improve their performance. The airlines even overestimate flight times to achieve a better record of on-time arrivals. So, an airline might list a flight at two hours when a more realistic time is only one hour and forty-five minutes.
The black box or flight recorder is designed to remain intact during the most extreme conditions that may occur when an aircraft goes down. It can provide valuable information as to the cause of any incident.
Contrary to popular belief, the small box is destructible if it is subjected to a heavy weight or exposed to the extreme heat generated by burning fuel.
Air transportation is a competitive business requiring airline companies to employ various methods to reduce costs.
Pilots report that airlines are constantly encouraging them to carry less gas to reduce weight and therefore burn less fuel. With just enough fuel onboard to reach a destination under normal conditions, thunderstorms and other delays can cause a flight to be diverted to an alternate airport.
Global warming is caused by an increase in greenhouse gases that make up the earth’s atmosphere. These include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone. The rise in carbon dioxide is responsible for the increase in turbulence.
Turbulence makes flights unpleasant and ironically seems always to occur when the flight meal is served, or the flight attendant is pouring a passenger beverage.
Pilots tend to understate flight and aircraft conditions when they make announcements to the passengers. They avoid at all costs, any information that will cause a panic.
For example, passengers will never hear, “One of our engines just failed.” The pilot will probably announce, “One of our engines is indicating improperly,” or most likely will not inform the passengers at all unless it affects the flight plan.
According to a study, more than fifty percent of all active pilots have fallen asleep in the cockpit during a flight.
One Captain at a major airline said, “The truth is, we’re exhausted. Our work rules allow us to be on duty 16 hours without a break. That’s many more hours than a truck driver. And unlike a truck driver, who can pull over at the next rest stop, we can’t pull over at the next cloud.”
Although modern aircraft can land on the water safely, they are not explicitly designed to do so, and the conditions must be ideal.
One pilot says, “Aircraft are able to land on water, but it depends on the way in which the plane is flown onto the water. The speed, water state and the aircraft pitch or roll can all have a massive effect. You need preferably flat water and a well-controlled descent (or ditching) to have a positive outcome.”
While an airplane has touched down and is taxiing to the terminal, many passengers breath a sign of relief, collect their belongings, and plan their route to baggage claim or a connecting flight. Most believe the risky part of air travel is over. However, crashes can happen not only while the airplane is airborne, but also on the runway.
An EPA study revealed that nearly 15% of commercial aircraft fail the agency's standards for water safety and the water systems contained potentially harmful bacteria.
A flight attendant told Business Insider, “…the water lines haven't ever been cleaned – ever. Flight attendants will not drink hot water on the plane. They will not drink plain coffee, and they will not drink plain tea.”
Commercial airplanes are built to last a long time, but not forever. It is not uncommon for a jet to remain in service for 25 years. However, some aircraft have been in the skies since 1970.
Most of the old planes are Boeing 737 jets, but primitive models like the 717, 757, and 767 are still in service.
Although the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration claim there is no such thing as the safest seat on an aircraft, a Condé Nast Traveler report says otherwise.
Crash data analysis shows that the safest seats are near the back of the plane. Furthermore, the position is important with middle seats in the rear third of the aircraft providing the best protection in the unlikely event of a crash.
Airline companies in the U.S. and Canada do not require pilots to pass any formal psychological tests. They don’t screen pilots for depression, nor do they help them treat it.
According to Wired, “There is no meaningful way of screening the 50,000 or so airline pilots in the U.S. and Canada. You simply cannot line them all up in front of a clinical psychologist each year.”
However, even the most rigorous screening and training will not guarantee an emotionally or mentally troubled pilot will not take over the controls in the cockpit.
Sources: travelandleisure.com, en.yelp.com, skift.com, independent.co.uk