22 Facts You Probably Never Knew About Airplanes

Air travel is one of the most common means of transportation today. Be it to travel far and wide within the country or to visit other countries, airplanes have replaced most other forms of transport as the preferred option. However, there is still so much that we don’t know about aircraft and air travel. So, to answer some of your burning questions about them, here are 22 things about airplanes you probably never knew!

1 Raising airplane window blinds for takeoff and landing can actually help flight crews evacuate their passengers quicker.

Raising airplane window blinds.

Typically, there is very little time for an airplane crew to safely evacuate their passengers during emergencies (the Federal Aviation Administration seems to allow just 90 seconds or less to do so). So, it is rather important for flight attendants to assess the situation outside the aircraft to chart a quick exit plan. And leaving the window blinds open just makes this easier. (1, 2)

2 Although unlikely, it is still possible to get stuck on an airplane toilet if you flush it while still seated.

Airplane toilet

Since most airplanes have vacuum toilets, it is possible to get stuck on them if you flush the toilet while still sitting on it. However, this is rather unlikely since you’d first have to form a perfect seal over the toilet. And even if you did, you may actually be able to pull yourself off it with some effort. Nevertheless, it is probably still a good idea to stand up before flushing an airplane toilet. (source)

3 Airplanes are often designed to fly for a long time with just one functioning engine.

Airplane engine

Engine failures on aircraft do happen from time to time. But in most instances, you really need not panic. Before a twin-engine airplane is flown over large water bodies or risky terrains for long distances, they are first assessed for its performance on a single-engine.

This then is how such aircraft are given ETOPS, or Extended-range Twin-engine Operations Performance Standards certifications. So, an airline with an ETOPS-330 rating can fly for about 330 minutes (five and a half hours) on a single-engine to the nearest viable airport. (source)

4 In some airplanes, the cockpit may have an escape hatch that provides pilots with a way out in case of an emergency.

Escape hatch.

This then allows pilots to make a quick getaway during emergencies when other exits are blocked. For instance, during the 1986 hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73, the cockpit crew used such an escape hatch to flee from the armed hijackers. The aircraft serving that flight was a Boeing 747, and according to a Boeing Co. spokesman at the time, such escape hatches were a standard feature on those airplanes. (1, 2, 3)

5 Food served on airplanes sometimes tastes bland. This can be because your taste buds go numb due to the cabin atmosphere.

Food served on airplanes.

At altitudes of thousands of feet in the air, the humidity and cabin pressure is much different than on the ground. This, some experts say, can actually reduce our sensitivity to sweet and salty foods by about 30%. Sometimes, the loud noises on an aircraft can also affect your ability to taste food. Interestingly, things with an umami flavor (like tomato juice) seem to taste better in the air. Go figure! (1, 2)

6 The tiny, unnoticeable hole in the window of an airplane regulates the air pressure between the window panes and keeps them free of fog.

The tiny, unnoticeable hole in the window of an airplane. Image credits: Chris Waits/Flickr

An airplane window typically has three separate panes to help maintain cabin pressure. Since the air pressure outside the aircraft is very low, the outer pane must deal with the difference in pressures between the outside and the inside. The bleed hole then helps balance some of the air pressure between the panes so that the outer pane takes on most of this force. The hole also releases moisture from the air gap and keeps the windows from fogging up. (1, 2)

7 An aircraft “black box” is designed to withstand an impact of 3,400 Gs and temperatures of over 1,000° C.

Black box

Investigators need to have all available information to know what caused an accident and prevent such incidents in the future. For this reason, aircraft are fitted with flight recorders, more commonly known as a “black box,” that collects and stores data throughout the flight.

And to make sure that this device survives a plane crash, it is tested under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure before being deployed. The “black box,” therefore, is typically designed to survive impacts of 3,400 Gs and temperatures that go above 1,000° C. (1, 2)

8 The oxygen masks in airplanes have enough oxygen to last around 15 minutes, during which the pilot must lower the plane to an altitude that is suitable for normal breathing.

The oxygen masks.

If there is a drop in cabin pressure, oxygen masks on a plane typically drop from the panel above the seats. Then, as instructed before take-off, passengers must wear them covering the nose and mouth and breathe.

The oxygen from this mask lasts around 12 to 15 minutes. Now if that seems short, don’t worry! Experts say that this time is more than enough for a flight crew to get you to a lower altitude where you won’t need the masks to breathe. (1, 2)

9 The door to the airplane toilet can be unlocked from the outside even after it has been locked from the inside.

Yes! Even when you lock an airplane bathroom door from the inside, it can still be opened from the outside if a flight attendant deems it necessary.

It turns out, that under the sign that says “lavatory” on the door, there is a button or catch that lets them unlock the door, allowing it to be opened from the outside. But don’t worry, this button is usually only used in cases of emergency. (1, 2)

10 Cabin crew often have private sleeping quarters on board during long-haul flights.

Image credits: Boeing/BusinessInsider

Long-haul flights can easily last up to 18 hours at a stretch. So, to provide crew members with their required breaks, aircraft have a hidden compartment with resting areas. The location and layout of these areas may vary from airline to airline but most crew rest compartments ultimately look like the inside of a futuristic spaceship.

They are also often stocked with essential supplies such as pillows, blankets, and a seatbelt for when there is turbulence. Pilots, on the other hand, tend to have their own separate sleeping compartments. (1, 2, 3)

11 A pushback vehicle is used to bring an aircraft out of its parking position because a plane reversing itself can cause high-speed debris to fly around.

Pushback tractor. Image credits: Duc Huy Nguyen/Shutterstock

In aviation, “pushback” is a procedure in which a vehicle pushes an aircraft backward to get it out of its parking position. Such vehicles are called a pushback tractor or tug. Does this mean an aircraft is incapable of moving itself backward? Not necessarily. Many aircraft are actually capable of using reverse thrust to do this.

However, the resulting high-speed debris can hurt ground staff or be sucked into the aircraft’s engines. This could also be accompanied by increased noise and damage to airport terminal buildings. So, to be safe, pushback is used as the preferred method to get aircraft out of their parking spots. (source)

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