As a pilot and former airline employee, I’ve seen it all. From misbehaving passengers forcing the aircraft to divert to turbulence so severe it resulted in passengers being showered in their own dinner.
I’ve always thought, if only the travelling public knew some of the things that go on behind the scenes in the airline world, they might approach airline travel a little differently.
So, in the interest of keeping each and every one of you traveling ladies informed about why you shouldn’t drink the plane water, here are fifteen airline secrets that you should know before the next time you fly.
People Actually Steal Life Jackets From Under The Seat
I know, seriously! What kind of people would risk the lives of others just to take a souvenir home with them? But this actually happens on the regular. Good news is that the planes are checked daily, and life jackets usually get replaced quite regularly.
But this costs the airlines thousands of dollars and is actually a punishable offence if anyone is caught stealing them. It’s pretty unlikely you’re going to need it, but if you’re a safety conscious traveler, you might want to have a feel underneath the seat next time you travel, to check if it’s there.
Flight Attendants And Pilots Don’t Talk Below 10,000Ft
It’s true. The flight attendants are not permitted to contact the pilots below 10,000 feet. The pilots are not even allowed to engage in general chit-chat between themselves during this period. Why? Short answer – for safety reasons.
The most task intensive period for a pilot is during take-off and landing, and pretty much any time the aircraft is below 10,000 feet. This period in the flight requires the pilots to complete checks, communicate with air traffic control, enter data into the flight computer and cross-check instruments.
The last thing they need is the flight attendants calling them on the phone or their colleague asking them how their kids birthday party went on the weekend.
There are of course procedures to follow in the event of an emergency that requires the flight attendants and crew to communicate during take-off or landing (although rare it does happen). But as a general rule – flying the plane is the pilots’ number one priority.
Sometimes Flight Attendants Keep Meals For Themselves So Passengers Don’t Get Their First Choice
It’s unfortunate, but sometimes this does occur. Flight attendants are usually supplied with their own meals by the airline, but sometimes if they don’t like what’s on offer, they may swap it for a passenger meal before the meal service commences.
If you happen to be one of those people stuck down the back and don’t get your first choice, sometimes making a fuss can result in a spare meal being ‘magically found at the back of the oven’, but not always.
Alternatively, if you’re a vegetarian or fussy eater, you could contact the airline and book a special meal before you fly or try hacking your way to airline gold status, so you never have to be stuck down the back again!
Tray Tables Are Only Superficially Cleaned
Have a think about it… a mother needs to change her babies nappy, and there’s a long line up for the lavatory… what do you think she’s going to use? I’m not kidding, I’ve seen this happen before.
In fact, there was a study done a few years ago, that tested the number of bacteria living in an aircraft cabin. And guess what came out as the number one dirtiest place on the plane… yep, the tray table. In fact, it has more than 8 times the number of bacteria found on the lavatory flush button.
Most surfaces on the plane are only superficially cleaned, if at all, between flights. Usually just a quick wipe down using the same sponge, 200 tray tables later – bacteria is literally just being transferred from one to the next. I suggest travelling with your own antibacterial wipes.
Plane Water Is Not Consumable
While we’re talking about aircraft hygiene, don’t get me started on the state of the water on some planes. Yes, there are hygiene regulations in place. Are these regulations strictly followed and enforced? Not really.
Having spent years doing audits on the procedures used by airlines for servicing toilet and water ports, I would NEVER drink the water on the plane. Did you know that sometimes the same person who removes the waste from the aeroplane lavatories also fills up the water? They’re not meant to, but sometimes they do. Eeeeww!
To top this off, most low-cost airlines don’t actually carry enough bottled water to last the entire flight. And with airport security regulations restricting travellers to 100ml (3 oz.) per container, this doesn’t leave too many options.
Be sure to bring an empty water bottle with you and fill it up with filtered water at the airport before boarding. Or, opt for travelling on a full-service airline, as they generally carry ample filtered or bottled water for all passengers.
The Pilots Have To Eat Different Meals In Case Of Food Poisoning
Although there are strict regulations in place regarding airline food safety, you can never be too careful. If a chicken curry meal has been unintentionally contaminated, it’s possible that the entire batch of chicken curry has also been contaminated.
We wouldn’t want both of the pilots needing to rush to the toilet when it comes time to land, now would we?
Pilots And Flight Attendants Sometimes Don’t Switch Their Phones To Flight Mode
Sometimes it’s unintentional, other times they just can’t be bothered. In fact, there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that the electromagnetic interference produced by mobile phones has much effect on the aircraft avionics. But it may have an impact on the ground networks used by airlines.
All that said, while leaving your phone on during the flight is probably not going to cause a plane crash, using it inflight might get you in a lot of trouble with the flight attendants. It’s always better to err on the side of caution, so best not to test this theory out.
If There Is A Security Threat Onboard, The Pilots Won’t Open The Cockpit Door
In spite of what Hollywood has led everyone to believe, if there is a security threat onboard the pilots must follow a strict protocol. Since the events of 9/11, aircraft cockpits have become extremely secure. And that means the pilots will NEVER open the door if there is a potential security threat.
They’re also trained to detect a situation where a flight attendant may try to convince the pilots to open the door under duress. But, you’ve got to appreciate an over-embellished Hollywood drama!
There’s Not A Lot The Crew Can Do About Aggressive Passengers
Can you imagine being stuck next to a psychotic passenger having a mental breakdown or drug-induced episode for fourteen hours? I’ve seen this happen all too often. Unfortunately, if the passengers’ mental state is not detected before the flight, there’s not a whole lot the flight attendants can do.
In extreme circumstances, the person can be handcuffed, and the plane diverted to the nearest airport to kick them off, but this can cost an airline a lot of money, so the situation has to be pretty bad for this to occur.
Flight attendants generally just have to do their best to avoid aggravating the passenger further. Sometimes they might move you to another seat. But if there are no spare seats on the plane, guess what? You’re stuck there. Just pray this never happens to you.
Doctors Can Get Upgraded If They Volunteer To Assist A Sick Passenger
I recently used the thousands of miles I’ve saved over the years to take a two-week holiday in Japan flying in business class. During the flight, a passenger from economy was unwell and had to be put on oxygen.
The flight attendants called for a doctor and moved both the passenger and doctor to a spare seat in business class so they could be closely monitored.
If you’re a doctor or nurse (or another type of medical professional), it can be totally worth volunteering if you hear the call inflight.
My aunt is a doctor and always volunteers, especially on long-haul flights. She’s been upgraded many times and usually just has to keep an eye on the patient in return for a comfortable seat and first-class treatment.
Clear Air Turbulence Can Be Very Dangerous
You know how the flight attendants always recommend that you wear your seat belt even when the seat belt sign is off? This is just in case the aircraft encounters clear air turbulence (CAT). Although rare, CAT can happen at any time, is usually undetectable by radar and can be very serious.
I actually saw photos of an event that occurred during food service. There was literally food all over the cabin and passengers were completely covered in it. Some passenger and crew even sustained minor burns injuries as a result. Needless to say, I wear my seatbelt all the time now.
If The Oxygen Masks Are Deployed Get Ready For The Plane To Nose Dive
Let me start by saying this very rarely happens. In my thirteen years of working for airlines, I only heard of it happening once. And that was the result of accidental deployment rather than an aircraft depressurisation.
However, if an aircraft does happen to depressurise, the pilots only have about ten minutes to get the aircraft down to a safe level before oxygen deprivation becomes a threat.
My advice – if this ever happens to you, immediately sit down, fasten your seatbelt, don the mask and hold on! Another good reason to wear your seatbelt at all times while seated.
It Is Very Common For Planes To Get Struck By Lightning
In regions of the world where electrical storms are prevalent, particularly around polar regions and the tropics, it’s not uncommon for aircraft to be flying around fierce storm clouds. Not only does lightning strike the ground but it also jumps between charged clouds.
Lightning usually seeks out conducting materials such as aluminium, so aircraft are prime targets. On average a commercial aeroplane can be stuck 1-2 times per year.
But don’t be alarmed. Fortunately, planes are engineered to handle lightning strikes. A lightning strike will typically hit one point on the aircraft, usually the wingtip, then travel through the aircraft fuselage and leave from another point without actually getting in.
Thus, electronic equipment and passengers are protected from surges. Most of the time, passengers won’t even know the planes been hit.
Think Twice Before You Fly With Your Beloved Pets In The Hold
While airlines may take precautions to ensure your pets are handled with care, some things cannot be avoided, like the noise and temperature on the ramp. While pets are waiting to be loaded, they can be sitting out on the ramp in sweltering heat or freezing temps with loud plane noises.
If that’s not bad enough, they then get loaded into a dark container, with nothing around them but wall-to-wall luggage, and possibly another stressed out animal.
Flying can be very stressful on pets. I have seen incidents where animals have not survived a flight simply due to severe stress. I also read about a situation once where a dog escaped from its enclosure and managed to open the aircraft hold door by scratching against the emergency door release.
Thankfully the plane was on the ground when this happened. But please think twice before flying with your pets in the aircraft hold.
Don’t Get Angry With The Airline Staff If Your Flight Is Delayed Due To Weather
It’s not their fault. Airlines can’t control the weather. Besides, some storm clouds have the capability to turn an aircraft upside down. Do you really want them to fly through that or would you rather be delayed until it passes?
Sometimes the weather in other cities can also affect your flight, even if the weather is perfect where you are. If the aircraft operating your flight encounters terrible weather early in the day, it can result in a roll-on effect for the rest of the flights it is scheduled to operate.
I hope this article helped you plan for your next long or short haul flight!
Do you have any airline secrets to add or any tips for flying? If you have any questions or tips of your own please leave these in the comments below.
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Read More About Flying
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- 11 Ways To Combat Your Fear Of Flying According To A Pilot
- How To Overcome A Fear Of Flying
We Are Travel Girls Senior Contributor Amanda Twine of FlyStayLuxe.com
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This is such an interesting post!! I never knew about the physician/nurse thing… I’m a nurse! :) Do you know that if you volunteer before your flight if you’ll get bumped up?? Or only if there is actually a medically sick person on the flight? Thank you!
Hi Ashley, thanks. Glad you liked it. Its usually only if there happens to be an incident onboard. They usually call for a doctor first and if there are no doctors they will call for a nurse or other medical professional.
Hana Melegova says
This is such a great article! :) So many new things I learned! Good job :)
Thank you very much Hana!
Tilly Horseman says
I will never look at the tray tables in the same way again!!!