Ready for Takeoff: Aircraft Facts You Should Know

DALLAS — Even the most adventurous travelers may not be well-informed about what happens behind the scenes during a regular flight. You may be an experienced flier with reliable methods for stowing your luggage, trying to secure a seat upgrade, or taking a nap during the flight.

Nevertheless, many passengers may not have information on why airplane tires do not explode when they touch down, the risk of an engine failure, or the safety of drinking water from the airplane.

Keep reading to find out the answers to the questions you may have about flying at 30,000 feet.

British Airways Airbus A321 La Muñoza
Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

1. After one of Their Engines Fails, Some Planes Can Fly for up to Five Hours

ETOPS (extended twin operations) is a term for the amount of time a twin-engine plane can safely cruise with one engine out of commission. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner received 330-minute ETOPS certifications in 2014, indicating that it can fly for more than five hours on just one engine before landing.

2. In-flight Oxygen Masks Aren’t Meant to Last for the Duration of the Journey

On a Boeing 737, those masks only give 12 minutes of continuous airflow, according to a report from the Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board. Fortunately, that’s usually all the time your airplane needs to find a safe landing location.

3. Pilots Are Prone to Dozing off on the Job

So, who precisely is piloting your plane? Perhaps no one, at least for the duration of the flight. According to a 2017 research by the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), 43% of 500 pilots interviewed acknowledged falling asleep while flying, and 31% claimed waking up from a nap to find their co-pilot napping as well.

two pilots sitting inside plane
Photo by Rafael Cosquiere on

4. Black Boxes Aren’t Black

The Flight Data Recorder, aka the black box, is painted bright orange. The heat-resistant paint used on the boxes’ exteriors is a highlighter-orange color, making them easier to spot in the event of an accident.

5. The Air in an Aircraft Is Much Drier Than the Air on the Ground

While humidity levels in the Mojave Desert in the western United States can reach 50%, you’ll only get a fraction of that wetness on a plane. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average airplane has a humidity level of less than 20%.

Lufthansa Boeing 747-8I D-ABYT in Retro Livery. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

6. A Boeing 747 Uses Less Gasoline Than Your Car Does

Currently used for cargo operations to give way for more fuel-efficient passenger aircraft like those of the Airbus A321neo family or the Boeing 737 MAX series, the Boeing 747 consumes approximately 1 gallon of gasoline per second, or 5 gallons each mile. Reversing this gives us 0.2 miles per gallon of gasoline. This is significantly less than the typical car’s fuel economy of roughly 25 mpg.

However, given the number of passengers carried, the 747 is significantly more efficient. Because the plane can transport roughly 500 people, this breakdown indicates that it gets 100 miles per gallon per person.

7. The Toilet Is Not the Dirtiest Part of the Plane

Hate to break it to you, but the filthiest location on a plane happens to be the tray table where you’re having your lunch. Tray tables had 2,155 colony-forming bacterial units (CFU) per square inch, according to a study conducted by TravelMath. In comparison, the flushing toilet button had only 265 CFU in the same amount of space.

8. During Safety Checks, Dead Chickens Are Shot into Jets

Yes, a “chicken gun” is used in this amazingly realistic test. However, before you contact PETA to report aviation specialists, keep in mind that the chickens they receive are already dead. Airlines must ensure that their windshields can protect pilots and passengers if they crash with a bird, which is quite likely.

9. The Riskiest Phases of a Flight Are Takeoff and Landing

Flying is the safest way to get around than any other type of transportation means. However, according to Boeing research, 13% of fatal accidents happen during takeoff and initial climb, or the first three minutes of a flight. The descent and landing, or the last eight minutes of the flight, are significantly more dangerous, accounting for 48% of all fatal accidents.

Antonov Airlines UR-82060 Antonov An-225 Mriya. Photo: Lorenzo Giacobbo/Airways

10. The World’s Heaviest Aircraft Weighed Approximately 600 Tons

Before its destruction at the battle of Hostomel, the Antonov An-225 Mriya had a maximum takeoff weight of 591.7 tons, which is quite outstanding. The maximum takeoff weight of the Boeing 747-8F is 489,218 pounds less, at 347.091 tons.

11. The Seats in the Back of the Airplane Are the Safest

According to analyses of crash data compiled by Time, the fatality rate for seats in the back third of a plane during a crash was 32%. With a 39 percent mortality rate, the middle of the plane was the least safe, while the front was marginally safer with a 38 percent fatality rate.

12. During Flights, You Are around 7% of the Distance to Space

When you’re flying on a plane, it can feel like you’re astronomically high in the air. However, you might be astonished to learn that you’re only 7% of the way to the edge of space. Planes can fly considerably higher than their average altitude of 30,000 feet, but they don’t because it would endanger the passengers’ health.

Image: Helwing Villamizar/Airways

13. Airplanes Can Trigger Lightning

When a plane flies through clouds, the static created can encourage lightning to form. Fortunately, even if your jet is hit, you’ll most likely be unharmed. Since 1967, there hasn’t been a plane catastrophe caused by lightning in the United States, and increased safety measures have made lightning strikes less risky than ever for passengers.

When lightning strikes a plane, the electrical current is distributed uniformly throughout the conductive aluminum interior, and grounding the plane’s interior electrical systems avoids surges that could disrupt its operation.

A Faraday cage or Faraday shield is an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields. A Faraday shield may be formed by a continuous covering of conductive material, just like the aircraft you fly on.

14. A Boeing 747 Fuel Tank Has a Capacity of 48,445 Gallons

Speaking again about our favorite aircraft, the Queen of the Skies, the type holds 17,248 times the amount of fuel held in the gas tank of a Dodge Ram pickup truck.

However, not all of that fuel is being used during a single flight—in fact, the Boeing 747 only uses an average of five gallons of fuel per mile, meaning a 3,450-mile trip from New York to London only requires about a third of the plane’s total fuel capacity.

15. Dimming the Aircraft’s Lights is More Than a Sleep Helper

While it might seem obvious to believe that airlines are merely hoping you’ll get some decent sleep, this isn’t the case. Dimming the lights on a plane helps passengers’ eyes acclimatize to the dark, which is critical for survival in the event of a quick nighttime evacuation.

16. Plane Doors Cannot Open in the Middle of a Flight

While many people have attempted to open the external door of an airplane while it is in flight (only to be arrested later), doing so would be impossible. The pressure inside the plane ranges from 4 to 14 PSI, making it unlikely that the door could be opened by anyone. However, it is only possible to open a plane door mid-flight when the plane is at a lower altitude.

Pilots. Photo: Westjet

17. Pilots Who Fly Internationally Must Know Basic English

English is the language of air travel. To avoid potentially disastrous communication blunders, the International Civil Aviation Association (ICAO) added new standards to the Chicago Convention in 2003, stating that all pilots flying internationally must be skilled in so-called aviation English.

18. It Is a Serious Offense to Point a Laser Pointer at an Airplane

You must never aim that obnoxious red dot at a jet. If you aim a laser pointer toward a jet or its flight path, you might face up to five years in prison to reflect on what you’ve done, according to 18 U.S. Code Section 39A.

19. Bathrooms on Airplanes Can Be Opened from the Outside

While switching the latch inside the bathroom that flips the door sign to “occupied” may provide you some privacy, flight employees can easily get access if they need to. There’s a switch beneath that lavatory sign that permits flight crew to open the door if they’re concerned about your or other passengers’ safety.

Qantas VH-EBM Airbus A330-200. Photo: Noah Pitkin/Airways.

20. There Is One Airline With No Fatal Accidents, Ever

Despite having been in operation for nearly a century, Qantas (QF) has never had a fatal accident involving one of its commercial aircraft.

21. A Boeing 747 Has 140 Miles of Wiring inside Its Guts

According to research from Tyco Electronics, a technology firm that manufactures wire connectors for the aviation sector, our beloved Boeing 747 can carry 750,000 feet, or 140 miles, of wire, weighing around 3,500 pounds in total.

22. By Axing One Ingredient from Meals, American Airlines Saved US$40,000

When American Airlines (AA) was trying to save money in the 1980s, they realized that cutting only one item from passengers’ lunches would suffice. The airline saved a whopping US$40,000 over a year by merely removing one olive from the salads served on board.

Photo: Lufthansa

23. The Water in Airplanes Is Teeming With Bacteria

Ok, this one is set before COVID-19 onboard safety measures were put in place but you might want to take your bottled water on your next long-haul flight.

According to the Wall Street Journal, pathogens such as salmonella, staphylococcus, and bug eggs were discovered in airline water. Another study from the University of Limerick discovered 37 different bacterial species in airplane water, with long-haul flights having poorer water quality than short-haul flights.

24. During a Flight, Pilots, and Co-pilots Have Different Meals

While it’s only a hard-and-fast rule on some flights, most pilots and co-pilots won’t eat the same dinner, according to Travel & Leisure. The reason is simple enough. If the food is tainted and one of the pilots becomes ill, the other should still be able to fly the plane.

25. Your Taste Buds Change During Your Flight

Ever wonder why you find airplane meals unappealing? Well, you’re not tasting as much of them as you would think. The difference in air pressure and low humidity in a plane’s cabin, according to JetBlue (B6), makes it more difficult for your taste buds to perceive sweet and salty flavors. The good news is that passengers in next-gen aircraft will experience less of this problem.

YouTube player

26. Flight Attendants Have Secret Bedrooms and a Bathroom on Long-haul Flights

Flight attendants require time to recover if they work long-haul flights, which can last up to 12 hours. As a result, airlines have erected hidden sleeping chambers with seven or eight beds and, on rare occasions, a separate restroom above the main cabin. Of course, while within these hidden compartments, they can also enjoy their IFE.

27. The Most Common Cause of Non-fatal Plane Injuries Is Turbulence

There’s a reason why the seat belt sign should always be obeyed. Between 1980 and 2008, US air carriers experienced 234 turbulence accidents, resulting in 298 serious injuries and three fatalities, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

When the seat belt sign was switched on, two of the three fatalities were determined to be passengers who were not wearing seat belts. Buckling up isn’t “the law” in the air, but it’s well worth the effort to ensure your safety.

28. Living Near an Airline Flight Path May Cause Heart Problems

While frequent flyers may believe that living near an airport would be convenient, actually living under a flight path could shorten your life.

According to a 2010 study published in Epidemiology, people who were often exposed to noise levels above 60 dB—such as the sound of a jet overhead—had a 30% higher risk of dying from a heart attack than those who were normally exposed to noise levels under 45 decibels. Living under a flight route increased that risk by 50% over 15 years.

YouTube player

29. Airplane Tires Are Inflated to about Six Times the PSI of Car Tires

The real reason airplane tires do not burst upon impact when landing is because they are made of thick rubber.

However, their strength under pressure is due to more than just their thickness. According to a Wired study, plane tires are inflated to over 200 psi, which is roughly six times the psi of a typical automobile tire. In fact, according to a National Geographic experiment, the tires on a Boeing 737 can sustain nearly 900 psi before bursting.

30. It is Simply Too Chilly to Fly in Some Places

When traveling at 35,000 feet, the exterior of an airplane can reach -60 degrees Fahrenheit, yet identical ground temperatures can cause a plane to come to a halt.

When temperatures dropped to around -47 degrees Fahrenheit at Igarka Airport (IAA) in Russia in 2014, a Tupelov-134 jet’s landing gear braking system froze, prompting passengers to do everything they could to help, including getting out of the plane to try to push the 61,640-pound plane.

Featured image: Brunei Government V8-ALI Boeing 747-430. Photo: Misael Ocasio Hernandez/Airways. Article source:


ETOPS: History, Evolution, Current Applications


Countries With the Highest Number of Commercial Pilots


Flying the McDonald’s McPlane


What’s in an Aircraft’s Name?

Article source:

Leave a Reply