Weird questions you wonder when you’re stuck on a plane without internet…and their answers!

Weird questions you wonder when you’re stuck on a plane without internet…and their answers!

    *Ding-dong*Ladies and gentlemen, please, if you haven't already done so, we kindly ask that you switch off all mobile devices or place them into aeroplane mode now”.

    And so it begins. Trapped in a huge metal cylinder, staring at the back of a chair, sitting next to a complete stranger, wondering how to fill the next few hours.

    If only we had internet! … Come to think about it, why don’t we have internet? I mean, some airlines have it, right? And we’re flying high up in the clouds, so we must be closer to all the satellites? Hmm, I wonder how high we actually are? And how fast we’re going… And how long we could fly before we run out of fuel...?

    Woah, there’s a lot about flying that the regular passenger doesn’t know. But if you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re at least a little interested in those lingering thoughts that pop into your brain once the fasten seatbelt sign pings off. 

    Luuuuckily, we at JFC have unsurprisingly spent many hours stuck on planes, too. So, we’ve put our minds together and collected all those weird, amusing and bizarre questions, and their answers…

    FYI, these probably aren’t topics you’ve ever deliberated in day-to-day life, so we’d advise downloading this for whenever you’re in need of a bit of fun in-flight reading :-) 

    1) Why do you have to put your phone in flight mode? And what happens if you don't?

    It’s all in the electromagnetic interference. AKA, the invisible cellular signals coming from your phone that could interfere with aircraft instruments. Turning your phone off or putting it in flight mode stops that risk.

    Planes were built long before every passenger had a mobile in their pocket, so there was a level of uncertainty surrounding how the plane’s system would react to the additional radio signals.

    Nowadays, planes are designed to handle it, and interference is no longer really a problem—so forgetting to switch on ‘plane mode’ shouldn’t have any effect. Which is a good thing because it’d be impossible to make sure everyone turned off their phones, iPads, smartwatches, and other electronic devices. That being said, the safety measures still enforced today to err on the side of caution. So, we’d advise co-operating, unless you wanna fall out with the cabin crew. 

    2) If a window broke mid-flight, would everyone on the plane get sucked out of it?

    So we all know how things turned out for Goldfinger, but surprisingly, Hollywood might've been on to something here. And after that Alaska Airlines incident in January 2024, it’s unsurprising that we're all left with a lot of questions.

    The first thing you should know is that the air pressure inside the cabin is a heck of a lot higher than it is outside. This is so passengers can breathe normally when they're up in the air.

    In the extreeeeeemly rare circumstance that a window breaks (they’re made up of multiple layers of plexiglass and strong acrylic plastic, after all), anyone sitting close to the window will experience a rush of air escaping the cabin, extremely loud whooshing sounds and freezing-cold air. Everyone’s ears would likely pop again due to the change in pressure.

    Yes, this can pull out anything that’s not strapped down, including people. But, it’s not inevitable that everyone will get sucked out. Thankfully, the majority of flights where a window broke have ended in a safe emergency landing, avoiding major injury—ultimately because everyone wore seatbelts.

    Air travel is one of the safest modes of transport in the world, but it’s a good reminder to always stay strapped in when sitting down! 

    3) Why are some flights faster on the way there and slower on the way back, or vice versa?

    Two words: jet stream. That’s the technical term for long ribbons of fast flowing winds found up in the sky. If a plane flies east within a jet stream, they can use the tailwind currents to their advantage, thus flying much faster.

    An example of this can be seen with the flight route from London to New York, which takes around 8 hours heading towards the US. On the way back to Europe, however, it only takes about 6–7 hours, shaving a nice amount of time off the total journey.

    4) Where is the safest place to sit on a plane?

    This is one that most nervous flyers have likely pondered as they’ve reached that stage of the booking process when the airline prompts you to pay to choose a seat. Instinctively, you might be tempted to select somewhere near the front or at least by an emergency exit, although these usually both come with the steepest price tags.

    However, after decades of research, one consistent answer has emerged as the ultimate safest seat. Unfortunately, it’s probably not most people's preference for a long-haul flight.

    Can we get a drumroll please for…the middle seat and the back of the plane! (Yay?) 

    On the bright side, this is where those budget airlines love to stick you if you're rebellious enough to select ‘proceed with randomly allocated seat’ for free. 

    That said, it’s worth emphasising that all seats on an aircraft are safe. And if you're feeling extra picky, you can always double-check your selection with Seat Guru first. 

    5) Can I get compensation if my flight is delayed?

    If you're currently in the 4th hour of staring at the clock, slumped against your luggage on an overcrowded terminal floor and figuring out how to ration your £5 meal coupon, you may wanna listen up.

    Within Europe, this is fairly straightforward thanks to the EU 261 regulation. This protects passengers from flight disruption, long delays and cancellations as long as your flight either takes off or lands in the EU and the airline has a headquarters in the EU.

    And what about the UK?” we hear you ask… Since Brexit, the UK government has also put in place new regulations to ensure that UK passengers' rights will remain the same, just as they were when the UK was part of the EU. You can read about this in more detail here.  

    Now, the actual compensation you receive is based on 3+ hour delays and the distance of the flight, and not the price you paid for the ticket. If your flight is delayed by less than 3 hours, you are not entitled to compensation.

    So here are the figures:

    Flight distance


    1500km or less


    Between 1500km and 3500km




    There are some annoying loopholes where airlines can get out of paying. For example, if bad weather caused the delay. But for the most part, you can usually expect them to hand over the cash. It’s also worth noting that some budget airlines, *cough cough* Wizz, *cough cough* Ryanair, make it very tricky to find the compensation application forms on their websites, but rest assured they are there

    In the US, things get a bit more subjective. Your chance of receiving compensation is usually based on the discretion of the airline and if they determine that your flight has been significantly changed due to the delay. Luckily, we’ve already written a whole article on this, which you can jump to here.

    6) How much do pilots get paid?

    There’s simply no one answer for this, as a pilots' wage depends on several factors, such as their experience, the size of the airline, and also which type of aircraft they fly.

    Starting with the experience, the first level of pilot is Junior First Officer. Their starting wage is on average £24K-£28K/$30K-$35K. The next level is Senior First Officer. Their wage averages £48K-£86K/$60K-$108K. Finally, the most senior position is Captain and their wage averages £103K-£173K/$130K-$213.5K.

    Obviously, these wages can still vary depending on the airline. For example, a captain working for easyJet can earn a basic wage of around £115K/$144K. Whereas, a captain working for Virgin Atlantic could earn from £130K-£170K/$160K-$213K.

    It all sounds pretty great, but then that leads us on to the next question…

    7) How long does it take to train to become a commercial airline pilot?

    With a decent amount of funds, spare time and resources, you can start flying for an airline within around 2 years in the UK/EU and 3 years in the US/Canada. 

    On top of passing exams, and going through extensive training, you also need around 1000 hours of flying under your belt before any major airline will consider hiring you. There are heaps of flight schools out there offering a range of prices, but the ones who promise the speediest process usually cost around £80K+/$108K+. On the flip side, the Philippines is known to have some of the cheapest flight schools on the market, costing around half of the above price.

    Oh, and in case you were wondering, you can, in fact, qualify as a pilot if you are colour-blind or do not have 20/20 vision! There are still some basic medical requirements you need to meet, which you can read more about here.

    If, somehow, you ever inherit a plane and feel like learning to fly for a bit of fun, you can actually earn your private pilot licence in only 2 months, with a minimum of 40 hours of flying experience. The costs for this licence typically range from £15K-£20K/$15K-$20K.

    8) Why doesn’t Concorde fly any more?

    Ahh, Concorde, arguably the most famous (or infamous) plane in the world—those sweeping wings, pointed nose, and white curves are iconic. It’s no surprise there is still a dedicated fan base decades after the plane was retired. If you’re not familiar, it was the first supersonic passenger-carrying commercial aeroplane, which took off for the first time in 1976. 

    With a maximum cruising speed of more than twice the speed of sound, and being able to reduce the flight time from London to New York by around three hours—what could go wrong? 

    Well, quite a few things, actually. Despite being funded by both Britain and France, the development costs were so high that the aircraft was never financially profitable. In fact, just the cost of the fuel exceeded the profit made from each flight. And that’s back when flying was a lot more glamorous than today, with a return ticket across the Atlantic on the Concorde setting a passenger back around £8K/$10K—that’s £16K/$20K in today’s money.

    There was also an issue with where it was actually allowed to go supersonic. It could only be done over the ocean, as it sent shockwaves strong enough to shatter glass down on the ground.

    These issues were surpassed, however, by one major incident. On the 25th July 2000, a Concorde scheduled to fly from Paris to New York suffered a burst tyre during take off. The debris from this sent out a shockwave that ruptured a fuel tank, which burst into flames. The resulting crash (just 2 minutes after take off) was fatal to all on board, and 4 people on the ground. Inevitably, the Concorde fleet was temporarily grounded and, after a brief comeback, ultimately retired in 2003.

    The majority of Concorde planes are on public display in airfields and hangars throughout France, the UK, and the USA. Here is a list of all their current locations if you ever feel like paying a visit. 

    9) What year was the first commercial flight?

    Okay, time for a quick history lesson. In 1908, the first passenger flight took off when Wilbur Wright flew passenger Charles Furnas a whopping 2000 feet in North Carolina.

    A year later, in 1909, DELAG (an offshoot of airship manufacturing Zeppelin) founded the world’s first airline company. Although, at this time, they only operated sightseeing airships, not aeroplanes.

    It wasn’t until 1914 that SPT Airboat Lines launched the first commercial passenger flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida (around 23 miles away). The very first ticket was auctioned off and bought for a pricey (even by today’s standards!) $400.

    The plane was only built to hold two people, and they had to sit side-by-side on a wooden seat. After initially taking off in front of a cheering crowd, they did have to touch down briefly in the Tampa Bay due to an engine misfiring. However, they soon took off again and were met by more waving crowds on the other side.

    Following this success, they ran a fixed timetable of scheduled trips at a much more reasonable cost of $5 each way, which is around £60/$75 in today’s money.

    10) If you can’t smoke on planes, why are there ashtrays in the toilets?

    Don’t believe us? Go have a look next time you're in that claustrophobic toilet cubical, and you're guaranteed to see a little square hatch on one of the walls.

    To back-track a little, until the early 80s, certain flights still allowed you to fly through the clouds in your own cloud of smoke. By the late 80s-90s, however, airlines began to introduce in-flight smoking bans due to health and safety concerns.

    Interestingly, many pilots were initially exempt from the ban and were allowed to continue smoking in the skies, as putting them through withdrawal symptoms was seen to pose a greater risk.

    Fast-forward to the present day, when all forms of in-flight smoking are prohibited, but we still see ashtrays, even in newly built planes.

    The answer? Simple: we're all a bunch of rule-breakers, and the Civil Aviation Administration knows it.

    Under their direction, ashtrays must be fitted on the bathroom doors of all airliners so that there is always a place to dispose of cigarettes—juuust in case the no-smoking policy isn’t adhered to. They believe that if ashtrays were not there, smokers may attempt to dispose of cigarettes in areas such as the paper bin. And since that could result in an on-board fire, it’s better safe than sorry. 

    P.S. Don’t take this as your green light to light up. If the cabin crew suspects you of smoking, you’ll still land yourself with a massive fine or even jail time.

    11) Is turbulence dangerous?

    As of writing this article (June 2024) this is a pretty hot topic due to a collection of recent bumpy journeys and even 1 fatality. These incidents are all still under investigation and information regarding what happened is still unclear.

    So for now, we’ll explain the general science-y stuff… Described by the Federal Aviation Administration as “air movement created by atmospheric pressure, jet streams, air around mountains, cold or warm weather fronts or thunderstorms”, turbulence happens all the time in the skies. It can be jarring, and sometimes frightening when the plane suddenly drops, but rest assured, it’s normal. 

    The most common cause of this sky-high juddering happens when warm and cold air collide, resulting in unpredictable wind speeds. Luckily, it’s something all planes are built to handle. Think of it just like a car crossing a pot-hole filled road or a ship sailing through some choppy waters.

    Usually, the worst that happens during turbulence is when people lose their balance after being caught off-guard while walking in the aisle. So next time things feel a little wobbly, listen out for the *ding* and get yourself belted in quick.

    12) If a plane is overbooked, can they force you to get off?

    I’m sure you’ve all seen clips online of US cabin crew encouraging passengers to give up their seats for more and more money because the plane has been overbooked (basically, a really un-fun auction). In some extreme cases, passengers have even forcibly been dragged through the aisle and taken off the plane.

    Well, despite overbooking being common practice for US airlines, it may come as a shock to Europeans to know that under EU law, it is also legal for European airlines to overbook flights as long as certain conditions are met:

    1. They need to inform you at the time of booking that your seat is subject to being overbooked.
    2. The airlines must display a clear compensation policy explaining how they will deal with overbooking, and how you can claim compensation if your flight is overbooked.

    It may sound unfair, but to give some context, airlines do this when they anticipate that some passengers will either cancel or skip their flight altogether.

    Now, before any airlines start selecting random passengers, they’ll usually ask for volunteers who are willing to skip the flight in exchange for things like meal vouchers, credit for a future flight, or in the best case, cold hard cash.

    If you're flexible, you might be able to take advantage. But just remember that compensation is negotiable, so try to think of any small add-ons like upgrades or lounge passes that you could ask them to throw into the deal. 

    If no one volunteers and you're the unfortunate one selected not to fly, this is referred to as ‘denied boarding’. If this happens, you are legally entitled to compensation and a free rebooking onto the next available flight. You can organise this with the airline staff, but try to remember to ask for a ‘denied boarding’ from or certificate from the gate. In the unlikely event that the airline refuses to offer any compensation, the form may provide useful evidence if you need to take legal action. 

    13) What happens if a plane is struck by lightning?

    This actually happens less than you might expect, with 1 or 2 planes being hit by lightning every year. It usually occurs as a plane flies through the clouds when it is ascending or descending.

    But typically, it doesn’t affect anything inside the cabin because the metal structure of the plane acts as a Faraday cage, which means that when electricity hits, it doesn’t enter the plane.

    Passengers inside may glimpse a flash of bright light and hear a loud noise, but besides that, it’s business as usual. 

    In the rare instance that the pilot suspects any damage has been caused, they can divert so that the plane can be checked (all pilots are prepared to divert to another airport at any time, so don’t be afraid if this happens!). But in the majority of cases, they deem it safe enough to continue flying.  

    14) What happens if someone dies on a plane?

    Although it’s not something that often happens, the grim reaper does occasionally come knocking while people are mid-flight. How each airline deals with it can vary slightly, but the IATA (International Air Transport Association) recommends that all airlines follow these steps:

    • Tell the Captain so that they can radio ahead and ensure appropriate people meet the landing plane. 
    • Move the person to a seat away from others if possible. 
    • Put the person in a body bag (if used by the airline), secure them with the seat belt and close their eyes. Cover with a blanket if a body bag not available. 
    • Check if there are any travelling companions and ask for contact details. 
    • Once landed, allow other passengers to disembark. The deceased person should remain on the plane (with family) until the authorities have arrived to remove the person and support the family. 

    If a passenger is presumed dead, flights don’t usually make an emergency landing, as there would be no point. Cabin crew also don’t try to hide the dead body out of sight of the other passengers (asides from a covering with a body bag or blanket and attempting to move it to an empty row) as this would likely lead to further distress from any family members.

    Things don’t always go according to plan, though. In 2016, a passenger died 45 minutes into their full flight home to Russia from Turkey. Since all the seats were taken by passengers, the body was covered with a blanket and lay in the aisle for the remainder of the flight. 

    Some airlines have previously tried to find a solution to this problem. Nearly 20 years ago, Singapore Airlines installed a ‘corpse cupboard’ onboard its Airbus A340-500. It was essentially a human-shaped locker intended to store a body if the worst should happen mid-flight. Despite their morbid invitation, the airline retired the fleet in 2014, and took the dreaded cupboard along with them. 

    15) Or, what happens if someone is born up there?

    Ending on a positive note—as goes the circle of life, sometimes babies decide to make a surprise entrance into the world at 30,000ft. Although, just like deaths, births are also incredibly rare. In fact, it’s estimated that there have only ever been 70 ‘sky-born’ babies. Most airlines require a fit to fly certificate after 28 weeks of pregnancy and don’t allow any travel after 36 weeks.

    In the unlikely event that a person does go into labour, you’ll likely get to hear that classic line “Are there any doctors onboard?!” over the loudspeaker. The cabin crew would then (hopefully with a trained medic in tow) move the passenger to give them as much space and privacy as possible and support them with the birth.

    After a baby is born mid-flight, the question of its citizenship isn’t entirely straightforward. It can depend on several factors, such as the territory the plane was in when the baby was born, the parents' citizenship and possibly the country the aircraft was registered in. 

    Many countries use the concepts of jus sanguinis andjus soli to determine citizenship. Yep, it’s time for a bit of Latin:

    Jus sanguinis refers to a child's citizenship being determined by its parents. This is the case in the UK, where citizenship is not automatic for babies born to non-British parents, so a birth that happens over UK airspace would not affect the baby’s citizenship. 

    Jus soli refers to citizenship gained by birth within the territory of the state, regardless of the parents' citizenship. This is the case in the US, where a baby born on a flight over U.S. territory or within its airspace is automatically granted U.S. citizenship.

    If there’s ever a time when a child is born over regions without territorial rights and would otherwise be stateless, the airline’s country of origin would then determine the passport. This is due to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which says that a birth on a plane shall be treated as a birth in the country of the aircraft’s registration, but this is extra rare. 

    And a final fun fact: one lucky baby born on a flight with Aeroméxico in March 2024 was awarded 90 free flights in honour of the airline’s 90th year anniversary!  

    Well, we hope that satisfied your thirst for random aviation knowledge. And aside from a bit of brief in-flight entertainment, we're sure it’ll come in handy one day on a drunken pub quiz night.