Monday 22 January 2018

The secrets of air travel: Aviation experts reveal all

A view from airplane porthole on sunset (Stock photo)
A view from airplane porthole on sunset (Stock photo)

Oliver Smith

How do you nab a first class eat for yourself? Why does airplane food never taste like your own food at home? The aviation experts reveal all...

1. Economy class seats are safer

The majority of studies suggest that, in the event of a crash, those sat at the front of an aircraft - traditionally where premium-class seating is found - are more likely to die. You will also raise your chances of survival if you are within a few rows of an emergency exit. 

2. Cabin air may be making you sick

The issue of cabin air being contaminated by engine fumes is nothing new. Dozens of pilots have spoken out about the effects of inhaling toxic fumes from engines - which some medical specialists refer to as “aerotoxic syndrome" - and accused the airline industry of doing little to tackle it. Some claim they have been left incapacitated at the controls of an aircraft because of it. And in 2010 a stewardess won damages from her employer after a contaminated cabin air incident caused was ruled to have caused her long-term respiratory problems.

The decision to abandon the "bleed air" system on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, eliminating the risk of contamination, was a welcome change. But the system remains in place on other new models. 

3. Airport staff drink your confiscated alcohol

That was what Jason Harrington, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer from 2007-2013, claimed earlier this year in a candid confession for the website Politico. (A Gatwick spokesman denies that any such activity takes place on British shores, it should be noted).

Harrington also claimed that staff, until 2010, profiled passengers based on their nationality, and, until technological advances made the images less revealing, technology would laugh and gawk at pictures of naked passengers on full body scanners. 

4. Emergency landings happen all the time

Rather than being the rarity you might presume, figures released last month revealed that Heathrow Airport alone experiences around one emergency landing a week. Fifty-one occurred last year, 40 in 2012, 54 in 2011, 66 in 2010, and 55 in 2009 – a total of 266 in five years. 

5. You've probably never experienced "severe" turbulence

You may still have nightmares about that hellishly bumpy flight to Bucharest, but - unless you're been very unlucky - you're almost certainly not experienced what airlines refer to as "severe" turbulence.

"Severe turbulence is extremely rare," said Steve Allright, a BA pilot. "In a flying career of over 10,000 hours, I have experienced severe turbulence for about five minutes in total."

6. And how far do planes fall during "severe" turbulence?

"The aircraft may be deviating in altitude by up to 100 feet (30 metres) or so, up as well as down, but nothing like the thousands of feet you hear some people talking about when it comes to turbulence," adds Allright.

7. Pilots nod off

After the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposed changes to pilots' working hours, passengers were treated to the revelation that nearly half of pilots have fallen asleep in the cockpit, according to research by the British Airline Pilots’ Association. 

8. Plane food tastes bad for a reason

At high altitudes our taste buds simply don’t work properly. The low humidity dries out our nasal passages, and the air pressure desensitises our taste buds, which is why airline often opt for salty stews or spicy curries. Airlines planning a new menu will often taste food and wine on board a flight before clearing it for public consumption, because of the variation in taste. Some airlines install sealed rooms in their kitchens room to replicate the experience of eating in the sky.

9. Planes are often struck by lightning

According to Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential: "Planes are hit by lightning more frequently than you might expect - an individual jetliner is struck about once every two or three years on average - and are designed accordingly. The energy does not travel through the cabin electrocuting the passengers; it is discharged overboard through the plane's aluminium skin, which is an excellent electrical conductor. Once in a while there's exterior damage - a superficial entry or exit wound - or minor injury to the plane's electrical systems, but a strike typically leaves little or no evidence."

10. You CAN get an upgrade

Most airlines admit you will have a better chance of securing an upgrade if you choose a busy route, are a regular customer, travel alone, have a genuine reason (height, pregnancy, honeymoon, faulty seat or entertainment system, etc) - or simply ask nicely.

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