Concerned Or Just Curious? 8 “Pressing” Air Travel Questions Answered
There’s a world of complexity around the capabilities of a 747, and the processes of the crew who operate them. And it’s a world that throws up a lot of questions…
From emptying bladders to draining a double gin, we look at eight aviation questions that crop up from curious or concerned passengers – with answers straight from pilots, investigative journalists, and even the FAA.
FOR THE CONCERNED
- What happens if someone opens a plane door mid-flight?
“You cannot-repeat, cannot – open the doors or emergency hatches of an airplane in flight. You can’t open them for the simple reason that cabin pressure won’t allow it.” These are the words of Patrick Smith, airline pilot, blogger and author of Cockpit Confidential. At cruising altitude, this pressure equates to almost 80 stone pushing up against every square foot of the door.
- Can you crash the plane by sending a tweet?
Flight mode on mobile phones allows passengers to continue to use their phones in a more limited capacity while on board without interfering with the plane’s navigation system. One device is not going to make any difference, but the rules in place are there to stop every passenger from updating their Instagram and making phone calls. This is more of a precaution, as the effects of excessive phone usage are still not well known. At 37,000 feet in the air, this is one of those occasions where the phrase, “there’s only one way to find out” is probably not appropriate.
- Do planes avoid the Bermuda Triangle?
No – not least because the mystical doomed spot in the Atlantic Ocean is actually a vast area between Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Florida, and avoiding it could involve a 1,800 mile detour. Two British commercial planes did go missing in the area within one year of each other – one in 30th January 1948, and the second on 17th January 1949. After examining these disappearances for a BBC programme, journalist Tom Mangold found plausible explanations for each. The evidence pointed to poor design which caused a disastrous technical failure of one, and rapid fuel consumption – again caused by a technical failure – with the other.
- Why do you have to open the window blinds for take-off and landing?
Due to the proximity to the ground and the potential for collision, take-offs and landings come with more risk that the rest of the flight. Having the blinds open at night will give passengers time to acclimatise their eyesight to the darkness – which is vital if they’re to make a quick evacuation. In the daylight, it allows aircrew to assess which area of the plane will make for the safest exit as quickly as possible.
AND JUST OUT OF CURIOSITY
- Is it turbulence, or a toilet break?
Have you ever steeled yourself for a bumpy ride when the seatbelt light has come on, just to find it never comes? It’s likely that someone at the flight deck has popped to the loo. Putting the seatbelt light on is one way to ensure that passengers stay in their seats, while a member of the cabin crew guard the door to the cockpit. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “standing on ceremony.”
- Do you get drunk quicker while on a plane?
Factor in boredom, nerves, a portable bar, pre-holiday celebrations, post-holiday wind-downs, and long waits at the airport, and you have a cocktail for airborne inebriation. There is sufficient amount of oxygen in a pressurised cabin, which means that the theory of a drink going to your head quicker at a high altitude can be put to bed, and research has found there is no difference between drinking on the ground and in the air.
- Are you more likely to catch a cold on a plane?
Air from the outside is mixed with recycled air in the cabin, which is then filtered – capturing any airborne germs in the process, before pumping clean air back into the cabin. This is made possible through the plane’s High Efficiency Particle Air Filter (HEPA) system, and the process means a clean air change every two to four minutes. Boeing claiming that between 94-99.9% of airborne microbes are captured through these filtration systems – but that’s not to say you won’t pick up some germs from your tray table.
- Is that what I think it is?
The Federal Aviation Administration were forced to release a fact sheet to assure people on the ground that whatever fell on them from above, it was not human waste. The waste tanks on a plane can only be opened using an external lever, and so as the FAA notes, “It’s physically impossible for a pilot to dump a tank while in flight.” However the authority does investigate reports of being dumped on from above, and has found that the culprit is almost always a bird.