Crying babies, random delays, and microwave-nuked meals are just some of the reasons many of us find the whole process of jetting off to a new destination to be less than pleasant, but what behind the scenes secrets flight attendants keep hidden from their passengers? Keep reading to find out… and might I offer you any snacks or refreshments in the meantime?
10. Secret code
Any frequent flyer will be familiar with hearing random chimes throughout a flight. Most of us don’t think twice about what they really mean.
Although most times such noise might be followed by an announcement from the cabin crew or pilot themselves –these chimes can also be considered a sort of secret code between the flight deck and the cabin crew, partly to prevent passengers from panicking.
Generally, a varying number of dings can indicate a different official message: one alone might advise attendants of some upcoming choppy air, while two usually conveys that the aircraft is approaching 10,000 feet in altitude, and three can mean severe turbulence is guaranteed, advising attendants to be seated immediately.
Besides these practical and effective codes, though, pilots and attendants have also commented that these chimes might be used to communicate private messages between the main plane and the flight deck. For example, one chime from the pilots might mean “hey, can we have a coffee when you’re free?” while three from the cabin crew might tell the pilots “we have a passenger on board with a medical issue which could require a diversion.”
9. Flying with the dead
Its nothing out of the ordinary to look around during your flight and see most passengers dozing peacefully in their seats, especially if your flight times aren’t exactly ideal – but what if not everyone is just sleeping?
Yes, while extremely rare, all members of the cabin crew must be prepared for the unfortunate event of a natural death while thousands of feet up in the air, but the truth is there is no real course of action in place for this occasion considering they can’t exactly remove a corpse mid-flight.
If this does happen, the flight attendant’s primary concern is to avoid a big commotion. So, they deliberately don’t alert other passengers. The best thing to do is to cover the deceased person with a blanket and make sure they have the seatbelt on.
Very few planes have special lockers or body bags for such circumstances. So, the cabin crew may move the passenger to first-class in some cases. With fewer people there, death will remain more discrete.
So if you see someone looking like this during your flight, you should probably fear the worst.
That’s not all though, because you could also find yourself flying in the company of a corpse being transported for burial or even a cooler full of organs needed for a transplant at any given time – both of which are discretely loaded on alongside all the other luggage.
© The Sun
8. Double-check your safety equipment
If you’ve already flown a few times in your life, listening to the safety announcement as you watch the cabin crew point out all the available exits might seem like a bit of a chore, but you might just want to pay special attention to all the safety equipment available to you.
The announcement will likely tell you that there is a life jacket under your seat in the event of an emergency. But this is not the case always. The life jacket is the most frequently stolen safety item on board the aircraft.
Double-check whether your own life jacket is still under the seat. You should also listen carefully to the information about the oxygen masks. In the case of an emergency, these masks will drop down from above your head.
Although some people have reservations about the amount of oxygen contained in these small bags, research shows that in the event of sudden aircraft decompression you have about 18 seconds of ‘useful consciousness’ in which to safely install your own mask.
Although airplane accidents are still super-rare, it pays to observe the smaller details – they might just save your life.
7. Airplane food is not good food
This one might not come as much of a shock, but just how much do you know about the food served up in those little foil containers – besides the fact that no one would willingly eat it if they weren’t stuck thousands of feet up in the air.
All in-flight meals are cooked in industrial kitchens near the airport way before its delivered to your individual tray-table – which, by the way, is only wiped down once a day. The preparation of in-flight meals takes place between 12 and 72 hours before take-off. After ‘blast-cooling’ to 5°C, the staff can keep the food in a cold-storage for up to 5 days before breaching international food hygiene standards.
But what really makes airplane food taste so bad? It actually comes down to basic science: as air pressure drops and humidity at 30,000ft sinks below 12% – which is dryer than most deserts – our taste buds and nasal cavity, which accounts of 80% of what we consider ‘taste’, become so dehydrated that food tastes significantly blander than it would on the ground.
To enhance the basic sweet and salty tastes, extra salt, sugar, and fat is usually added to food meaning that the average in-flight meal contains around 1,500 calories alone.
Although the pilots must also choose their meal from the very same menu, they aren’t allowed to pick the same option as their co-pilots as a preventative measure which ensures that both will not suffer from potential food poisoning at once – pretty smart, really.
6. Tea, Coffee, or Champagne?
Onboard beverages are barely safe either – especially the hot kind. As low cabin pressure means that water boils at 90°C instead of the usual 100°C mark, you can’t expect an on-flight cup of tea to taste the same as your home-brew while cruising above ground. Similarly, our increasingly dried-out sinuses also alter the familiar taste of coffee, if that’s more your thing.
That’s not all though, because your favorite hot drinks are almost definitely not prepared using safely bottled water but rather the aircraft’s own tap water, which is far from ideal. This is because the same person empties the toilet and refills the plane one by one during layover periods. A build-up of grit and minerals in valves and pipes is also common because of the lack of time to properly clean between flights.
Although many people enjoy a drop of the hard stuff while relaxing on-board, you should also know that even the be might taste entirely flat up in the air because liquid thins out and becomes leaner at higher altitudes. If you’re looking for a better option to wet your palette and calm your nerves, I suggest you go for a classier glass of champagne which has its own system of preserved flavor delivered through all those tiny little bubbles.
© GQ India
5. Your smartphone won’t bring down the plane (probably)
One of the most common myths about flying is that if you don’t adhere to the strict instruction to set your personal electronic devices to Airplane mode before taking off you could bring the whole plane down in flames.
This is not entirely true – in fact, electronic carry-on devices like a laptop or your smartphone aren’t individually capable of interfering with any of the critical electronics required to keep the plane airborne.
The primary concern is that the radio used to access your cell network can interrupt signal communication between the flight deck and the control tower, and a plane full of people using their mobile phones could cause a fair deal of potential confusion due to combined radio emissions.
The US may change the rules regarding passengers on planes using phones above 10,000 feet. However, the ban on receiving or making calls on-board will stay firmly in place. A bunch of people having loud telephone conversations will more likely jam the aircraft’s signal receiver.
4. The best seats in the house
Some people aren’t all that bothered about seat-allocation while preparing for an upcoming flight, while others will actively avoid the middle seat or the ‘unlucky’ aisle 13 – which has even been removed from certain planes to ease flyers’ minds – but where is the safest place to sit while flying?
Research has shown that – despite the extra legroom, comfier seats and generally more peaceful experience – first class is actually the last place you want to be sat in the case of a real emergency. In 2012, scientists purposely crashed a Boeing 737 aircraft and discovered that none of the crash dummies positioned in first class would have survived in a real-life scenario, with some of the seats even found around 500 feet from the original crash site.
According to general beliefs, seats closest to the wings are ‘stronger’ and therefore safer. Seats nearest to the emergency exit allow you the best chances of escape. If the plane catches on fire, you have about 90 seconds to get out safely.
In fact, those sitting in the safest seats in the aircraft are the flight attendants themselves. They sit on backward-facing seats at the rear of the plane, which provide much more back and neck support.
© NY Times
Why do the rest of the seats on board not facing backward too? Simple. They cost more to install because they are heavier and therefore increase fuel consumption. But you know, safety first, right?
3. Time is money
A delayed take-off can be frustrating for us all. It feels like a lifetime when you await the announcement that the plane is finally preparing to move. But have you ever considered that the flight attendants patiently answering everyone’s questions during this period aren’t actually getting paid yet?
Although individual pay structures may differ between airlines, both the pilots and cabin crew generally don’t start getting paid until the parking brake is released or the main exit door is closed and pay stops again when the brake has been reapplied and the door re-opened.
© NY Post
This also means that all necessary means of pre-flight preparation including any pilot checks like weather, route coordination, and briefings as well as attendants assisting passengers with boarding the plane and finding their seats are technically unpaid work.
This has been the traditional way of ‘accurately’ calculating their shift time for years. Unfortunately for them, airline regulations don’t have any plan to change it now.
From now on you should probably remember to be nicer to your cabin crew because dealing with rude passengers is hard enough, but dealing with difficult individuals for free is a whole new ball game…
2. Sleeping on the job
Working on an aircraft can be a seriously stressful job that comes with long, irregular hours. It also needs some serious multi-tasking requirements – especially if you’re the one flying the plane.
It’s no surprise, then, that in a survey of 500 pilots, half agreed that at least once a month their ability to fly was compromised by lack of sleep, while in another study 43-54% of UK, Swedish and Norwegian pilots asked admitted to actually falling asleep while flying… wait, what now?
Don’t panic just yet, because autopilot is always a handy solution, plus the co-pilot can take over at any time – except for when a quarter of the pilots from that same study claim to have woken up to find the co-pilot dozing too.
© Red Eye
Sleeping on the job doesn’t just happen accidentally though. Both pilots and flight attendants have private sleeping quarters, so they can sneak off for a much-needed kip during long-haul flights.
Some sleeping quarters like those on a Boeing 777 and 787 have secret locked staircase access near the cockpit.
Others like the Boeing 773 cabins are disguised as a regular overhead storage locker. These hidden areas can have anywhere from 6 to 10 beds or bunks depending on the airline and can contain a reading light, blankets, pillows, private storage, and in some cases pajamas.
Although flight attendants can barely stand up, overhead sleeping quarters for pilots are a little plusher. They fit two business class seats, two sleeping areas, and enough room for either a closet, sink, or toilet.
Think about that next time you cannot spread the legs because of the reclined seat in front of you.
1. The fake lock
Popping to use the toilet is something a few of us can avoid during a lengthy flight. Oftentimes you may find yourself peering up the aisle waiting for that red ‘engaged’ light to turn green. But what if I tell you the locking bathroom is little more than an illusion?
In fact, anyone can open the lavatory from the outside… if they happen to be a flight attendant who knows how that is. As with everything else on board, the toilet must be easily accessible in case of a sudden emergency. So, the locking system has a secret latch or switch hidden beneath the ‘lavatory’ sign. It’ll disable the lock and allow cabin crew to open the door if someone was passed out or stuck inside.
Much like the sleeping quarters – which are explained on a visible onboard sign – this is probably something you never thought to look for, and as mechanisms vary between airlines the chances of you figuring it out are slim anyway… not to mention facing a potential criminal offense.
Were you already aware of any of these airline secrets flight attendants keep? And will you think twice about your next selection of food and beverages onboard? Let me know in the comments.