- Published on Friday, 14 March 2014 00:09
EXHAUSTED crew. Ageing aircraft. Guns in the cockpit.
There are some aspects about flying that airlines don’t exactly want to shout from the rooftops.
While air travel is an incredibly safe form of transport, here are 12 things your flight crew would probably rather you didn’t know.
Your pilot may be carrying a gun
Did you know that US pilots are allowed to carry guns in the cockpit? That’s a good thing, right, that will keep us safe? Well, not exactly. In 2012 a US Airways pilot’s gun accidentally went off as the plane came in for landing at Charlotte, North Carolina. It was the first time a gun was fired on board a plane under a program created since 9/11 to give the crew some protection against terrorists and other attacks.
Mike Boyd, who runs the Colorado-based aviation consulting firm The Boyd Group told CBS News at the time that it was a dangerous situation: “If that bullet had compromised the shell of the aeroplane, i.e., gone through a window, the aeroplane could have gone down”.
The crew you trust with your lives is often exhausted
They often work extremely long hours through multiple time zones, and at odd times, so it’s little wonder that pilots feel drowsy sometimes. Remember that some even work up to 16 hours a day.
The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), a union that represents three-quarters of pilots in the UK, has warned that pilots fall asleep with alarming regularity.
A study conducted by BALPA last September found that more than half of pilots have fallen asleep in the cockpit of a passenger plane. Worryingly, one in six commercial pilots has woken up at the controls — only to see that their co-pilot is dozing too.
Engine failed? It’s no biggie. In fact you probably won’t even know
Engine down? Pilots won’t necessarily tell you about it as planes have been designed to fly safely if an engine fails. According to Boeing, twin jet commercial planes have been designed to fly on one engine for extended periods of time and that the probability of both engines failing on a twin jet is less than one in a billion flight hours. What about the jumbo A380? No problem, it can safely fly with only two of its four engines working.
Ultimately, the crew often don’t reveal just how serious a situation is, to avoid panic
“There is an art to revealing just what’s going on without giving away TMI [too much information],” said pilot Eric Auxier, who has been flying for a major airline since 1990.
“While I can’t exactly jump on the PA and say, ‘folks, pay no attention to the burning wing’, I also must avoid describing ad nauseam exactly what the mechanics on-board are fixing.”
Instead, he opts for a calm and reassuring message, like: “Our ace mechanics are on-board resetting one of our black boxes. We should be underway in a few minutes.”
Our planes are not as new as you may think
Have you ever wondered just how many years the plane you’re flying in has clocked up in the skies? Well, according to airline experts Airfare Watchdog the skies are full of old clunkers including Boeing 717s and early versions of the 757, 767 and 737, just to name a few. In fact before the 757 production was retired you could have been flying on a plane that was 26 years old.
Flying on empty
Weight equals money for airlines, so some pilots claim they feel pressured to fly with less fuel than they’d like in order to cut costs.
“I’m constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I’m comfortable with. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel. Sometimes if you carry just enough fuel and you hit thunderstorms or delays, then suddenly you’re running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport.” - a captain at a major airline told R eaders Digest on the condition of anonymity.
Travelling with a baby in your lap isn’t a good idea
Debate has raged over so-called “lap babies” for years. When a United Airlines plane crashed in 1989 the parents of four lap-held children were told to put them on the floor of the plane during the emergency landing. However three of the parents said they were unable to hold onto their babies and a 23-month-old baby died along with 112 others on the flight.
Research by RMIT university, Human Impact Engineering & Britax Childcare Australia and CASA has shown children seated in their parents laps face an increased risk of injury or death in a crash compared to adults, as the loop belt restraints do not offer an equal level of protection to adult restraints. There is also evidence an individual seat may be inappropriate, with some tests showing a higher rate of head injury for young children.
Patrick Smith, airline pilot and author of the book Cockpit Confidential also advises against it:
“It’s extremely dangerous. If there’s any impact or deceleration, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose hold of your kid, and he becomes a projectile.”
How secure is the cockpit?
The idea of a passenger gaining access to the cockpit should be near impossible right? After 9/11 stringent new rules were brought in by the FAA that announced all cockpit doors were to be strengthened and fitted with an internal locking device. But what about reports by Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association that cockpit locks could be opened with an ice-cream stick or rolled-up boarding pass?
Another resolution was to install a double door entry to the cockpit, currently used by the Israeli carrier El Al, to act as a further barrier however The New York Times reports that the airline is removing these doors to save money.
And when you consider that pilots, like all humans, need toilet breaks, meals and bouts of sleep, it’s inevitable that the cockpit door opens mid-flight. One aviation analyst estimates that the cockpit door is opened approximately eight times during an average flight. While flight attendants are supposed to stand guard whenever someone enters or exits the cockpit the reality is that they are often too busy.
You may want to check your life vest is actually there
In theory it should be there, but you should always check before takeoff. Why? According to travel website AirfareWatchdog.com, life vests are a popular souvenir for travellers.
You may not end up flying with the airline you booked with
Ah, the dreaded codeshare. Passengers really need to pay attention when booking their flights. That’s because airline codeshares are increasingly popular these days, meaning you could book with what you think is a reputable airline, only to be surprised to end up actually flying on an entirely different, not as well-known airline with perhaps a less glowing safety record.
Planes collide with birds on a regular basis
Yes they do. And yes, poor birds. Although there have been some extreme cases, most of the time you won’t even notice, reports travel websites Skycanner. As with most things, a plane is most at risk at takeoff and landing as they cruise at a good deal higher altitude than most birds. Some airports are in proximity to large concentrations of birds, for example, JFK and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on Long Island, New York, but birds do their best to keep out of the way.
All airports aren’t equal
“The two worst airports for us: Reagan National in Washington, D.C., and John Wayne in Orange County, California. You’re flying by the seat of your pants trying to get in and out of those airports. John Wayne is especially bad because the rich folks who live near the airport don’t like jet noise, so they have this noise abatement procedure where you basically have to turn the plane into a ballistic missile as soon as you’re airborne.” - a pilot from South Carolina told Reader’s Digest.