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7 Airplane & Flight Myths Debunked


Here’s some common flight myths debunked, that often frighten people into keeping their two feet on solid ground unnecessarily due to its widespread belief.

airplane vortex featured
Photo taken by NASA Langley Research Center. [Public Domain]

There are numerous myths out there regarding everything, and this always involves misinformation and/or misunderstanding. Here are seven common myths that scare people into keeping their two feet on solid ground, debunked.

Myth #1: Cell Phone Usage During a Flight Can Cause a Plane to Crash.

This is just about the most popular travel-related myth out there. In the United States, we have a ban on cellular phone usage (along with the use of most other electronics) that has been in place for about two decades. At the time, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed the ban for fear that the signals that these devices give off could interfere with the cockpit’s instrumentation, possibly causing a plane to crash. This regulation is still in effect because studies have not been able to prove that disastrous outcomes would not take place, though there is also no proof that it could really happen.

Myth #2: Emergency Door is Easy to Open.

There are several factors that actually make a plane door very hard to open. First, most doors on planes are plug-type door, which are essentially larger than the opening; it requires a few different movements for the plane door to open. Another thing that makes it even more of a challenge is the higher altitude; the higher a plane flies, the more pressure that contrasts the pressurization within a cabin, effectively keeping it shut.

Myth #3: Recycled Oxygen is Disgusting and Makes People Sick.

This is quite the opposite of the case. The plane air inside the cabin is actually thoroughly filtered as it gets recycled. What actually make most people sick on flights are the things that they touch, and then touching their eyes or mouth with the same hands. Every surface on a plane is teeming with bacteria, so keep this in mind on your next flight. Read this article for more info on how to stay healthy during a flight.

Myth #4: Lightning Strike May Cause Plane to Crash.

You may have heard news stories in the past that have stated that a plane was forced to make an emergency landing after getting struck by lightning. Though this may have been the case, here’s why you shouldn’t worry. Airplanes are much more likely to get stuck by lightning, obviously, than items on the ground; some estimate that every commercial plane gets hit once, on average, per year (ok, that may not alleviate your fears, but keep reading…).

plane tornado turbulence

Aircraft nowadays have mostly-aluminum exterior shells, which helps to dissipate the heat (a lightning strike can reach up to 54,000°F, or 30,000°C). The currents of electricity is directed over the body of the plane and the wings. Modern airplanes also were built with this foresight, so now most cables, fuel lines, and electronics are well shielded from damage. If a plane makes an emergency landing, it is probably due to an overabundance of caution. As a passenger inside the plane when it happens, you probably wouldn’t even notice.

Myth #5: Regarding Lift, the Pressure Change that Allows a Wing to Fly is Due to the Air on the Curved Top of the Wing Having to Travel Further than the Air on the Flat Bottom Surface.

This is what most textbooks and instructors still teach, though it was debunked by a Cambridge scientist almost two years ago. Actually, the change in air pressure is indeed caused by the curvature of the wing, but rather because it pulls some air up, reducing pressure, and forces the rest beneath, increasing pressure. The science stays the same, just the way the air pressure differences were created was wrong.

Myth #6: A Bullet Hole Going Through a Window or Wall Will Cause Immediate Depressurization.

Countless movies have shown this to be the case, but alas, this also is mostly untrue. A bullet that gets fired through the plane’s body will simply create a tiny hole and exit; the cabin’s pressurization system will compensate for the minuscule amount of pressure lost. If a bullet were to hit a window while in flight, it becomes a bigger problem. The whole window would immediately be sucked out, and the large hole would really cause a more substantial loss in cabin pressure, resulting in unsecured items nearby being potentially sucked out. A bullet hitting the fuel line….. well, it would be a quick death, I guess.

Myth #7: It’s Easier to Get Drunk While Flying.

It has become somewhat of an urban legend that having drinks in the air will get you drunker than the same consumption on the ground. This is false, for the simple fact that your blood alcohol content remains the same. However, the lower oxygen in the air and the pressurization of the cabin may make one feel drunker, similar to the euphoric feelings conjured up by becoming a member of the Mile High Club.

Want some more? Check out 6+ Strange-but-True Flight Facts »

Written by
Christian Eilers
Join the discussion

  • It is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) not the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that restricts cell phone use on airplanes.

    • Mac, you’re absolutely right! Thanks for stopping by and debunking myth #8 🙂 I’ve gone ahead and edited that part.

  • what a load of incompetently written tosh. No.2, the pressure difference keeps the door shut? Maybe the author needs to go back to science class in school.At cruise level, the outside pressue is lower than inside the cabin. Perhaps the word “pressurized” might have indicated this obvious fact to the author. And No.6, yes a tiny hole will de-pressurize the plane. What a nonsense that the aircraft system will be able to cope with it. It continues. No.1, the reason cellphones are banned is not because it cannot be “proven that disastrous outcomes would not take place”, the reason is that it is (or perhaps was) feared that they might interfere with navigation and other systems systems that also rely on wireless communications. Please Christian, when you write an article,do your research properly.

    • Ryan, I fail to see where some of the things I mentioned contrast with what you’re saying.
      – For #2, the difference in cabin pressure does indeed effectively prevent a normal human from being able to open it, see this article: http://www.askthepilot.com/questionanswers/exits/
      – For #6, there is already a hole in the plane called the “outflow valve.”
      – For #1, I said exactly this: “…the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed the ban for fear that the signals that these devices give off could interfere with the cockpit’s instrumentation…”

  • Christian,

    No. 1: The cellphone ban is based on the concern that cellphone signals could interfere with the plane’s navigation and communication systems, which also use radio signals, not interference with the plane’s instrumentation.

    No. 2: Your article states: “the higher a plane flies, the more pressure that contrasts the pressurization within a cabin, effectively keeping it shut.” Your statement clearly is based on the false notion that the outside air pressure is higher than the pressure inside the plane. The opposite is the case. The article you linked, on the other hand, explains it very clearly: because the door needs to be pulled inward first, the higher pressure inside the plane will push against this inward movement, ultimately preventing the door from being opened.

    No. 3: The outflow valve is a controlled outlet and is part of the pressurization system. A hole in the fuselage would let air escape uncontrollably, so I very much doubt the pressurization system could cope with it.

  • All emergency exits, both doors and overwing, are designed to remain firmly closed while in flight !

    This is achieved by a combination of locks and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that the doors “shimmy” into position (to observe this, just watch, if you can, the cabin crew closing the forward left-hand door before take-off). The result of this is that, once closed, they have to be pulled slightly _into_ the cabin before they can be properly opened.

    Once the aircraft has taken off, the falling air pressure outside (due to altitude) effectively pulls the door into the frame (or you can think of it as the higher air pressure in the cabin pushing the door into the frame – same difference) and even the world’s strongest man would be unable to pull it open past about 1000′ of altitude (approx 30 seconds into the flight).

    Simple but effective 🙂

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