5 crazy flight myths that are actually true

5 crazy flight myths that are actually true

Did you know that planes fly quicker through the Northern hemisphere? No? Well, don't feel too bad because it’s not true. As a flight-finding company, our team has had many 'is-that-true?' moments — some that had us all laughing and others not so much.

In the same rabbit hole, we've also found many flight myths that we share in our office group chat. Some are almost conspiracy-level hilarious, while a few have turned out to be true. So today, we're inviting you into our group chat (not literally, unless you plan on joining the team) with some of the juiciest flight myths that sound like a prank, but are actually true.

Opening an aircraft door in midair will suck everyone out.

If you've watched Flight 227 or any of the countless movies that came after, like us, you've probably developed a fear of opening an aircraft door mid-flight. And while scientists have proven that it's impossible to open a pressurized plane's door in midair, it can and has happened before.

But before we get into the examples, a quick note on how air cabin pressure works. The higher up we go in the atmosphere, the less oxygen. That's why hikers wear oxygen masks when they reach high altitudes like Mt. Everest. At 18,000 feet, we don't take in enough energy to supply the brain oxygen and will eventually pass out in 30 minutes. 

Commercial flights fly between 30,000 and 43,000 feet, which is high enough to make an adult pass out in less than a minute. Therefore, to avoid this, air is pumped into the aircraft to keep everyone inside awake and happy. The outside and inside pressure difference can be as much as 55158:1 newtons per square meter (read: a whole lot).

But sometimes, things can go wrong. For example, when a plane goes through unplanned depressurization, it's known as uncontrollable decompression, and the faster it happens - the deadlier it can get. The most dangerous is explosive decompression, which happens in less than 0.1 to 0.5 seconds and has been caused by various factors, from explosions to cargo doors falling off.

In 1974, a Turkish Airlines DC-10 cargo door unhatched 10 minutes after the plane took off from Paris, and at 11000 feet, the cabin floor collapsed, sucking several seats out of the plane with six passengers still in them.

One of the most famous cases of explosive decompression was Aloha Airlines in 1988 when cracks in the plane caused the roof to rip open mid-flight, taking an air hostess with it. Miraculously, the plane landed safely.

But fear not, explosive decompression can't happen if the door unlocks - mainly because the difference in air pressure causes the door to act as a sort of bath plug. And even more reassuringly, once the plane takes off, the pilot locks the door from the cockpit, making it impossible to open manually.

The black box is not black.

Contrary to popular belief, the little black box that comes into question when planes go down is orange. So yes, orange really is the new black.

The device's official name is flight data recorder (FDR), and it's not even a box. It's a small cylinder placed in the tail to record flight data such as engine exhaust, temperature, fuel flow, aircraft velocity, altitude, and rate of descent electronically, which helps during crash investigations. Sometimes the black box also includes the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), which records cockpit conversations between the pilot and air traffic control. It records up to 2 hours, then restarts, overwriting the last 2 hours.

No one knows why it's called a black box, but the most probable answer is that it originated in World War II, when the British hid secret electronic devices in non-reflective black boxes.

The orange color comes from the fire-resistant material it's covered with, making it easy to locate on land. If it falls into water, they have an underwater locator beacon (ULB) that sends out ultrasonic pulses, which can be detected by sonar and audio equipment up to 14000 feet away for about 30 days.

Another interesting note is that the black box is double-wrapped in titanium or stainless steel and is put through the wringer during tests. 

They're shot out of air cannons and smashed against a wall, dropped 3 meters with 227 kg weights attached to them, immersed in jet fuel, submerged in pressurized salt water, and lit on fire at 1100 degrees Celsius (2012 Fahrenheit). Basically, their test checklist is the inspiration for every torture enhanced interrogation in every James Bond/CIA-themed movie ever.

Airlines use flying chickens for safety tests.

Also on our list of crazy airline safety tests that sound untrue is the bird strike test.

Thousands of birds get caught between airplane engines every year. And after two crashes in the 1960s were caused by birds flying into the engine and hitting the tail of an airplane, aviation regulators got together to develop a way to test airplanes against bird strikes. Thus, the Chicken Cannon/Bird Gun was born.

 

 

As the name implies, the chicken cannon launches dead chickens weighing between 3 ounces to eight pounds at the aircraft windshield, wing, tail, and engine. They use gelatin-based birdseed or chickens from the grocery store to calibrate the machine. But, for the certification tests, the birds are supplied by poultry farms.

As you can imagine, this doesn't sit too well with animal rights activists, and the U.S. Air Force has taken to using clay and plastic birds.

 

Airlines don't have a row 13.

Friday the 13th, Room 13, 13 sins… The number 13 is a bad omen in many cultures, and the last thing someone who believes in the omen would want is to be seated in #13 of row 13 of a BW 1313 flight. That's why some airlines do away with the 13th row. The fear of the number 13 is so prevalent it has its own name - triskaidekaphobia. 

Not all airplanes follow this practice, but next time you're booking, take a look at the seating plan on these airlines; you might notice the missing row 13:

  • United States: United Airlines does this on most aircraft, while Alaska only removes the 13th row on its 737-800. Other US airlines like Southwest and Delta don't do this.
  • Europe: Ryanair, Alitalia, Lufthansa and Iberia all skip row 13. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and a few other top airlines in the UK do not.
  • Middle East: Both Qatar Airways and Emirates skip out on row 13.
  • Asia: Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, and a few others follow this practice on most of their aircraft.

Snubbing specific rows for their unlucky vibes also extends to other numbers like the number 17. In Roman numerals, it's written as XVII, or VIXI, which translates to 'my life is over' in Latin. Lufthansa and Alitalia are the most notable airlines that skip row 17.

Numbers 4 and 14 are also considered unlucky in some Asian countries as their pronunciation in Chinese is ‘sì’ and ‘shísì’, respectively, which also sounds like the word for death. As a result, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, and China Eastern skip rows 4 and 14, along with some United Airlines airplanes. Notably, Air China doesn't remove either row. 

Removing unlucky numbers goes way beyond airplanes. Some hotels and big businesses skip out on floor 13 for better luck.

Air pressure in the plane changes your taste buds

Unless you're part of the lucky few that only ride business or first class, you've probably suffered through a low-quality plastic-wrapped airline meal. 

But it's not entirely the airline's fault that food tastes bland. Your sense of smell plays a large part in how food tastes and it's weakened when flying due to the lack of humidity in the cabin. Studies have shown that cabin humidity can be less than 12%, which is drier than most deserts.

The lower cabin pressure also takes a toll on your body by reducing your oxygen levels, which in turn reduces the olfactory receptors - the part of your nervous system responsible for the sense of smell. 

It's not just dryness and low pressure. Even the background ASMR-worthy noise of airplane engines can reduce the sensitivity to sweet and sour foods by almost 30%.

Not all flavors of food are affected equally in the air. For example, curry, lemongrass, and cardamom taste more intense. At the same time, seasonings like cinnamon, ginger, and garlic retain their taste. Airline caterers make up for this by adding more salt and seasoning to meals than they would on the ground and by adding foods rich in umami.  

Umami is the fifth sense of taste responsible for our perception of savory foods like sardine, seaweeds, mushrooms, and tomatoes. It's also enhanced by loud noises. That's why you often see tomato juice and Bloody Marys being offered - they taste much better in the air than on the ground.

Airline meal preparation methods don't help either. Recipes are mass-produced on the ground, packed and refrigerated, and finally reheated in a convection oven when it's time to serve. Convection ovens blow hot and dry air, adding to the dryness effect of the cabin. The entire process can alter the taste of food.

You're probably wondering why business and first-class meals look and taste a lot better. Surely, all these factors affect the front cabin just as much? The answer is no big surprise: more money goes into business/first-class food innovation to attract higher paying customers. 

The standard practice for Business/First-class meals involves swapping out the tin foil and plastic packaging for real plates and cutlery, which goes a long way in making the food taste better. Some airlines like Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways take it to the max by having a chef on board.

Business and First-class meals also offer more variety, which means fewer mass-produced meals, and more care can be given to each individual meal. 

Airlines have also tried using technology to make food taste better. For example, in 2014, British Airways experimented with Synesthesia (increasing one sensation [taste] by stimulating a different sense [hearing]) by adding soundtracks to match the food served through noise-canceling headphones.

As with all things travel-related, the pandemic changed the airline food game drastically, reducing innovation. Some airlines chose to stop serving altogether, except on long-haul international flights, while others kept it to the bare minimum. 

Things are slowly returning to normal, but with more sterile disposable packaging that doesn't bode too well for tastebuds. In this case, we'll side with safety over taste. You can get the best of both worlds by bringing your own seasoning, or better yet - your own food. If you've ever had homemade food on a flight, did you notice a difference in taste? We'd like to know!

There you have it, five airline myths that sound like pranks but turned out to be true. Did you know any of these, or have you debunked your own myths? Please share it with us using #jacksmyths.