What is the safest seat on the plane? Why does the food taste so bad?
Aircraft have changed a lot since the days of the Wright brothers (or perhaps better said, the Brazilian inventor Alberto Santos). The first wood-and-cloth contractions are a completely different kind than the slender Boeing Dreamliners of today.
With the continuous advancement in aerospace technology, it is difficult to keep up with all the astonishing things that aircraft can (and cannot) resist today. Below 11 things you didn’t know about planes and air travel.
1 of 11 Ethan Miller / Getty Images
Aircraft are designed to withstand lightning
Aircraft are designed to be hit by lightning and are hit regularly. The estimated lightning strikes every aircraft once a year – or once every 1,000 flying hours. However, since 1963, lighting has not brought any aircraft down, thanks to careful engineering that allows the electrical charge of a lightning bolt to run through the aircraft and out of the aircraft, usually without harming the aircraft.
2 of 11 image source / Getty images
There is no safest seat on the plane
The FAA says there is no safest seat in the aircraft, although a TIME investigation into aircraft accidents showed that the middle seats in the back of the aircraft had the lowest death rate in a crash. Their research revealed that during aircraft crashes “the seats in the rear third of the aircraft had a 32 percent death rate, compared to 39 percent in the middle third and 38 percent in the third front.”
However, there are so many variables in the game that it is impossible to know where to sit to survive a crash. Oh, and plane crashes are incredibly rare.
3 of 11 Chris McGrath / Getty Images
Some aircraft have secret bedrooms for the flight crew
Cabin crew can work 16-hour days on long-haul flights. To help combat fatigue, some aircraft, such as the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliners, are equipped with tiny bedrooms where the crew can watch just a little. The bedrooms are usually accessed via a hidden staircase that leads to a small room with a low ceiling with 6 to 10 beds, a bathroom and sometimes in-flight entertainment.
4 of 11 Felbert + Eickenberg / Getty Images / Stock4B Creative
The tires are designed not to fall when landing
The tires in an aircraft are designed to withstand incredible weight loads (38 tons!) And can hit the ground 170 miles per hour more than 500 times before they ever need a new tread. In addition, aircraft tires are inflated to 200 psi, which is around six times the pressure used in a car tire. When an aircraft needs new tires, ground staff just jacks up the aircraft like a car.
5 of 11 danr13 / Getty Images
Why cabin crew dims the light when an airplane lands
When an aircraft lands at night, cabin crew dims the interior lighting. Why? In the unlikely event that the aircraft landing goes bad and passengers have to evacuate, their eyes will already be adjusted to the darkness. As pilot Chris Cooke explained T + L : “Imagine that you are in an unknown light room with obstacles when someone turns off the lights and asks you to leave quickly.”
Similarly, flight attendants allow passengers to illuminate their window screens during landing so that they can see outside in an emergency and assess whether a side of the aircraft is better for an evacuation.
6 of 11 Flightlevel80 / Getty Images
You don’t need both engines to fly
The idea of a mid-sized engine sounds frightening, but any commercial aircraft can safely fly with only one engine. Working with half the engine power can make an aircraft less fuel efficient and reduce its reach, but aircraft are designed and tested for such situations, such as Popular Mechanicsreported. Any aircraft scheduled on a long-distance route, especially those flying over oceans or through uninhabited areas such as the Arctic, must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Extended Range Twin Operations (ETOPS), which is in fact how long it can fly with one engine. The Boeing Dreamliner is ETOPS-330 certified, which means that it can fly with only one engine for 330 minutes (that is five and a half hours).
In fact, most aircraft with a surprisingly long distance can fly no engine at all,thanks to something called glide ratio. Careful aeronautical technology allows a Boeing 747 to slide two miles for every 1,000 feet above the ground, which is usually more than enough time to get everyone safely on the ground.
7 of 11 Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images
Why are there ashtrays in the bathrooms
The FAA forbade smoking on airplanes years ago, but passengers with fleeting eyes know that there are still ashtrays in the airplane toilets. As Business Insiderreported, the reason is that airlines – and the people who design aircraft – find out that despite the non-smoking policy and countless non-smoking signs being prominently placed in the aircraft, at some point a smoker will decide to Light a cigarette on the plane. The hope is that if someone violates the smoking policy, they will do so in the relatively limited space of the bathroom and throw the cigarette butt in a safe place – the ashtray, not a garbage can where it could theoretically cause a fire. If you smoke in the bathroom, expect a huge fine.
8 of 11 Jorge Villalba / Getty Images
What that little hole in the plane window does
It is to control the cabin pressure. Most aircraft windows consist of three acrylic panels. The outside window works as you would expect – keeping the elements out and maintaining the pressure in the cabin. In the unlikely event that something happens to the outside panel, the second panel acts as a fail-safe option. The small hole in the inner window is there to control the air pressure, so that the middle window remains intact and uncompromising until it is put into service.
9 of 11 assalve / Getty images
Why aircraft food tastes so bad
Aircraft food has a bad reputation, but the food itself is not entirely to blame – the real fault lies with the aircraft. A 2015 Cornell University study, reported by Time, discovered that the environment in an airplane actually changes the way food and drink tastes – sweet products tasted less sweet, while salty tastes became higher. The dry recycled air in the aircraft cabin does not help either, because low humidity can lead to a dull taste and odor, making everything on a plane appear boring. According to a 2010 study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Germany, it is 30 percent harder to detect sweet and salty flavors when you are in the air. Next time you fly, skip the meal and maybe try a glass of tomato juice.
10 of 11 Jupiter images / Getty images
About those oxygen masks
The safety instructions on most flights include the use of the oxygen masks that are used when the aircraft suddenly experiences a loss of cabin pressure. However, one thing the flight attendants don’t tell you is that oxygen masks only contain about 15 minutes of oxygen. That sounds like a shockingly short time, but in reality that should be more than enough. Remember that oxygen masks fall when the aircraft cabin loses pressure, which means that the aircraft also loses altitude. According to Gizmodo, a pilot responds to that situation by putting on an oxygen mask and moving the aircraft to a height below 10,000 legs, where passengers can breathe normally without extra oxygen. This rapid descent usually takes less than 15 minutes, which means that those oxygen masks have more than enough air to protect passengers.
11 of 11 Richard Newstead / Getty Images
Why aircraft leave traces in the air
The white lines that airplanes leave in the sky are simply paths of condensation, hence their technical name “contrails.” Aircraft engines release water vapor as part of the combustion process. When that hot water vapor is pumped out of the outlet and hits the cooler air of the upper atmosphere, it creates those puffy white lines in the air. It is actually the same reaction as when you see your breathing when it is cold outside.