These days, traveling by plane has become so common that most of us frequent flyers think we know everything there is to know about air travel. We’re pros at passing through airport security, and we can pack a perfect suitcase in minutes. But actually there are quite a few behind-the-scenes secrets you probably weren’t aware of – simply because the airlines don’t want you to be. Here, then, are the 20 most shocking in-flight secrets that every passenger should know.
20. Forget your manners at check-in, and you could pay for it on board
If you’re obnoxious or impolite to staff at the check-in desk before you even leave the runway, it could have unforeseen in-flight consequences. That’s because, according to those in the know, disrespectful passengers could find themselves deliberately seated among screaming children and babies once they board. So the next time you feel like picking a fight at check-in, just make sure you’ve packed your earplugs.
19. The first class line at security isn’t off limits
Don’t have the funds for a first-class ticket? Never worry, since it turns out that you could still enjoy one of the perks. Yep, the first class line at security is something actually imposed by the airline, and not something security staff totally adhere to. So step right up and skip ahead, because it seems that a first-class ticket actually carries less weight until you’re actually on the plane.
18. Planes get struck by lightning all the time
There’s a good reason airlines don’t want you to know about this little secret – because you might choose to drive to your next destination instead! Terrifyingly, planes are indeed frequently struck by lightning while in the air. The good news? The effects of any strike are minimal: so minimal, in fact, that those on board often don’t even realize anything has happened. Phew.
17. Pilots sleep during flights
The thought of your pilot falling asleep mid-flight isn’t an overly reassuring one, even if napping is pretty much essential for those steering a long-haul flight. Don’t worry, though – they only rest when there are two pilots on the aircraft, so there’s always someone still awake to fly the plane.
16. Oxygen masks are only good for less than half an hour
Is there anything scarier than the prospect of having to hook yourself up to an oxygen mask while your journey takes a turn for the worst? Well yes, actually, because here’s something to make the scenario even more terrifying – it turns out those masks only contain a limited amount of oxygen. In fact, in the event of an emergency, they’ll only last an estimated 15 to 20 minutes. Let’s hope all goes smoothly then, eh?
15. The food trays aren’t clean enough to eat off…
According to anonymous flight attendants, the food trays on airplanes aren’t exactly up to the standard most people would hope for. Little Things even quotes one staff member who admitted, “The trays don’t get cleaned as often as they should. Bring hand sanitizer.” Ew.
14. And don’t touch the blankets and pillows, either
Here’s a secret that might make getting shuteye on a plane even harder. Rumor has it that the blankets and pillows you get on flights are often re-used from the previous passenger without touching so much as a drop of detergent. In fact, as one former flight attendant revealed on Quora, “They just fold ’em up and put them away for the next flight.” Nice.
13. Yup, the water is filthy too
Caffeine may seem like a necessary crutch to get you through a boring journey, but cabin staff have actually warned against drinking tea and coffee – because the in-flight water is pretty putrid. When the Wall Street Journal investigated this in 2002, moreover, tests revealed that the amount of bacteria in aeroplane H20 was 100 times over the U.S. safe limit. Yuck!
12. You’re not getting the best food – the flight attendants are
While plane dinners are notoriously bad for passengers, if you’re cabin crew you get to enjoy a more nutritious in-flight meal. In a Quora post, former flight attendant Fatihah Sudewo revealed, “Our meals are slightly better than the passenger meals.” She added that most airlines had “at least a trolley dedicated for the crews.”
11. Don’t even try to bag an upgrade
Don’t even bother asking for an upgrade – that’s the advice of airline insiders. Indeed, flight attendants don’t deal with bookings and reservations: they’re up to the ground staff to allocate. And besides, some airlines have rules that mean staff can’t give passengers upgrades at all, no matter how convincing your honeymoon story is.
10. The toilets can be opened from the outside
Here’s another incentive for you to be super polite to the cabin crew: the staff can open the plane toilets from the outside. And you don’t want any uninvited guests while you’re using the facilities, do you?
9. You might not have a lifejacket
Bizarrely, one of the things that is often taken from airplanes is the very thing that could save your life: a lifejacket. In 2015, for example, a Chinese woman stole a lifejacket from her Cathay Pacific plane and later told the court she thought it was a souvenir. Absolutely no one is buying that story.
8. Your headphones have probably already touched other pairs of ears
It’s not like anybody was under the impression that planes are the most hygienic places around, but this secret is gross even by in-flight standards. Yes, you might want to consider bringing your own set of earphones, because those given out on a plane are sometimes used again for different passengers without so much as a wipe down.
7. You might not get fed if people are snoozing
You might have to wait even longer for that gross in-flight meal if loads of people are asleep. That’s right: it turns out that the aircrew will often hold back on your chicken and beef if a certain number of passengers are in the land of nod.
6. There’s a good chance you’re sharing your flight with some human organs
Believe it or not, that plane you’re flying on is likely to have human remains on board, too. Insiders reveal, in fact, that many U.S. domestic flights are transporting either a body or parts of a body to awaiting facilities. On the flip side, though, those hearts, livers or kidneys on your flight may just save lives, which kind of makes the grossness of their being there a little easier to, well stomach.
5. That’s not fresh air you’re breathing
The air you breathe during a flight is notoriously stale, and let’s face it, often quite a challenge for your immune system. But along with everyone else’s cold and flu germs, we bet you didn’t know that you’re actually inhaling air from the engine’s compressors to boot. “The air leaves the airplane via a small hole in the back of the fuselage,” Redditor virgadays revealed, telling us all something we’d rather we never knew at all.
4. Pilots have the power to physically restrain you on board
The pilot doesn’t just fly the plane, he or she also has the last say when it comes to doling out in-flight punishments to unruly passengers. And, if someone on board their aircraft is misbehaving, pilots can even take measures into their own hands. As ExpertFlyer.com co-founder Chris Lopinto told The Huffington Post, “The captain… can put you in restraints for the authorities to pick up on the ground if there is a problem.”
3. Sometimes pilots deliberately make a rough landing
There’s nothing worse than a horribly bumpy landing caused by stormy conditions or rough turbulence. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that pilots are sometimes forced to make a hard landing on purpose. Why? Well, it’s not because they enjoy torturing their passengers, but because the impact stops the plane from aquaplaning on a particularly wet runway – so it’s actually for the greater good in the end.
2. The seatbelt sign often has nothing to do with turbulence
You thought the seatbelt sign turning on was a sign of turbulence, right? Well more often than not, it’s actually just because the pilot has to go to the toilet. And when that happens, one of the flight attendants has to guard the cockpit door in case someone actually decides to ignore the seatbelt sign and make their way up there.
1. Pets have the worst flight of all
If you think it’s tough sitting in economy, then it could be worse: you could be a pet traveling in cargo. Flying can be a stressful ordeal for animals that take to the air, and it can be a particularly noisy ride for your furry friend, too. As one insider told Little Things, “While your airline will take the best possible actions, some things cannot be avoided, like the noise on the ramp.” Best keep your cat or dog on the ground, then, if you can help it.