10 Myths and Facts about Flying That Will Surprise You

At some point in your life, you will no doubt have heard some stories about flying that make you go: What?! Surely not! Really?! What is and isn’t true about these myths about flying? I’ve investigated 10 for you.

1. You can get sucked into an aircraft toilet.

Myth: Although it certainly sounds likely when you push the button and hear that loud sucking sound…

Aircraft toilets have a closed vacuum system. When you flush the toilet, a powerful vacuum system located near the waste tank sucks down anything that’s lying over the hole and draws it down into the tank. And we mean anything! We regularly find objects in the disposal tank that definitely shouldn’t be there.

But never any passengers! The reason being that the vacuum only works near the mouth of the disposal pipe. Yes, if the toilet bowl and seat had an airtight seal, this might have nasty consequences for toilet users who flush when seated. But the toilets and the vacuum system are designed in such a way that you cannot be sucked into the toilet.

2. An aircraft door can be opened during a flight.

Myth: The cabin doors can only be opened if the pressure on the inside and outside of the aircraft are virtually the same.

The pressure inside and outside is certainly not the same after take-off. The air pressure at high altitude is dangerously low, which is why the cabin pressure is increased artificially.

If you look closely at aircraft doors, you’ll see that they fit into the aircraft almost like a cork. A nifty mechanical system ensures that they can also open outwards.

When the door is closed, cabin pressure is exerted on the door. The force with which this takes place is determined by the difference in interior and exterior air pressure and the surface area of the door. As Sir Isaac Newton so succinctly put it: F = p x A.

We won’t bore you with the figures, but we can assure you that this force is far greater than the muscle power of the strongest passenger. In short, you can not just open the door at cruising altitude. Once the plane has landed, the pressure difference is minimised and the doors can be opened.

Only cabin crew are allowed to do this, of course, because the automatic emergency slides have to be disarmed first. When the plane draws to a halt at the gate, you’ll hear the pilot say: “Cabin crew, disarm the slides.” When the monitoring system in the cockpit indicates that all doors are safe, the pilot will say: “Cabin Crew, doors may be opened.”

3. Cabin crew are allowed to arrest a passenger.

Fact: At the request (and on behalf) of the captain, cabin crew are indeed allowed to arrest a passenger.

Naturally, this only happens if the passenger is a threat to flight safety. We even have handcuffs on board for this purpose. The captain has to concentrate on flying the aircraft and therefore can’t carry out the arrest personally. He will, however, formally and personally announce the arrest after landing, before the aircraft doors open.

4. Thunder storms increase the risk of an airplane crash.

Myth: No, thunder does not increase the risk of a crash.

We do avoid thunder storms, of course! Because, as you can imagine, such storms and the related turbulence can be very uncomfortable for passengers.

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In addition, lightning striking the aircraft can damage systems, but not to the extend that flight safety is impaired. If this happens, a special comprehensive inspection is conducted once the plane has landed.

 5. If you are born aboard an aircraft, you get to fly free of charge for the rest of your life.

Myth: Regrettably, we have to disappoint you on this one…

6. Aircraft dump their toilet waste above the ocean.

Myth: The WC’s contents get sucked down a pipe to waste tanks at the rear of the aircraft. The waste tanks are emptied – as they should be – at the airport after every landing, regardless of how full they are.

7. Cabin crew have to meet height requirements.

Fact: This is true! Our cabin crew have to be somewhere between 1.58 m and 1.90 m tall.

8. There is no row 13 aboard an aircraft.

Fact: At KLM, you’ll have a hard time finding row 13, because this is considered an unlucky number in many countries. We’re not superstitious, but you can never be too sure, right?

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9. Pilots have a parachute under their seats.

Myth: There are no parachutes aboard our aircraft. Our aircraft have multiple engines, so if one of them fails, there’s no man overboard…literally.

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10. Cabin crew speak a minimum of four languages.

Myth: Our cabin attendants speak English and Dutch, at least. But proficiency in other foreign languages is, of course, a bonus!

Myths about flying

So, now you know. Some of the stories you’ve heard are true, but most of them are fables. ;)

If you have any further facts and/or fables you’d like me to check, please let me know and I’ll go in search of an answer.

Sounds familiar?

It’s quite possible you’ve heard or read this before. We’ve posted this blog in September 2015. So this actually is a repost. But let’s be honest: you can never know too much about myths and facts about flying, right?

Posted by:   Djamilla Bogaard  | 
Join the conversation Show comments

AKinyele E.

Is it rarely true dat u don’t ve chutes on Ur planes, what happens incase of accidents?

Frans

In case of an emergency, the pilot lands the plane. That’s what he (or she) is getting paid for…not for drinking coffee or chatting up the flight attendend…

Jelle

“attendant”

Martin

Slides are also only compulsory on doors that are more than 6ft from the ground. For example on the B737 in general, there are slides on the forward and rear door, but not on the overwing exits because when the flaps are fully extended, this is less than 6ft from the ground and you can “walk” down the flaps and jump to the ground.

Djamilla

No, there are no parachutes onboard, honestly. Not for passengers, nor cockpit and cabin crew.
I cannot envisage a single situation in which one would be needed. In the event that all the engines cut out, it would be much safer to make an emergency landing with everyone on board. Being shot out of the sky is a different story, but we cannot preempt every single eventuality. That would make flying impossible and impossibly expensive.

Gabriel Kwong

Your question is kind of stupid. Well, at least in the eyes of an aviation expert like myself. First of all, you can’t even open the cabin door mid flight at 30,000 ft. If you do managed to open the cabin door mid flight, all the contents in the plane including yourself will be literally sucked out of the plane at 800 miles an hour, killing you instantly. IF there is an engine fail, most aviation airlines have 3 other engines left which is enough to pilot the plane to land. You basically will get killed before you manage to deploy your parachute considering the plane is travelling at such a high speed.

Jared Metivier

800 miles per hour? at that speed you wouldn’t have to worry about opening the door as the aircraft would have already broken up as they are not designed to fly that fast, at least not commercial jets.

Roxie

Hey Sean That west coast pic was my bro ScottYep he still has that one proudly on his wall..Hes now back living at Cactus again slippin into Caves basl.rreps Geez Id love a print of that wedge barrel..

Jesper

Your answer is kind of stupid. Well, at least in the eyes of a non-aviation expert like myself.
800 mph is about 1300 km/h and at 30,000 feet almost Mach 1.2. That means supersonic and faster than the speed of sound.

YYZman

What if, what if? You can’t eliminate all risks in life, and I’ve never heard of this happening.

Patricia Oudshoorn

I think there is no such thing as stupid questions. Stupid answers, however, do occur as we see in this example by Mr Kwong. I am referring to calling the one making the enquiry stupid. No need for that. You answering the question, enlighting us with your expert knowledge, already puts you in the position of the smart one. Calling the person asking for your expert opinion stupid seems like overkill to me.

Fabian

There are at least three incorrect statements in your reply, so please stop referring to yourself as an aviation expert.

1) “most aviation airlines have 3 other engines left” – this is incorrect. Most airliners are twin engined.
2) no passenger airplane flies at 800mph. Concorde did, but Concorde doesn’t operate anymore.
3) not everything will be sucked out of the plane if one did manage to open the door. unsecured contents would get sucked out until the pressure inside and outside is equalised.

Bla

Anyway… pilots won’t be able to open the door to use the chutes!

Onur

Doors also have a locking mechanism that locks the door during flight.

Mike

Sadly, this is also not true. What if this system fails in an emergency and all the doors stay locked? Not a very comforting thought.

Robert

It is true for some doors though! E.g., upper deck doors on the b747

Wessel

Onur is right for some planes. The 777, for example, has locks on the door that engage above 80kts airspeed..

Gabriel Kwong

The doors can be open manually on a safe and balanced pressure by a handle that works like when you were turning the handle to open a window in a car. However, that wheel is usually tight on a plane and you will need to use a stronger force to open tje door manually.

Gabriel Kwong
Aviation Expert

James

You are not an aviation expert.

James Filo
Aviation Expert Expert

DJ

How do keep aircraft free from rodents and other unwanted animals that I suppose do occasionally get onboard while the aircraft is on the ground

penelope burreci

Very interesting article on Myths About Flying. Some myths make me have a good laugh
especially as I have worked with Alitalia and other carriers and truth, as they say, is sometimes
stranger than fiction!! Good work KLM!

Annemarie

‘Our cabin crew speak English and Dutch, at least’. I have to disappoint KLM on that ‘fact’.
I have been flying Bristol – Amsterdam once and the 2 stewardesses DIDN’T speak Dutch at all, only English! I think this is very far below standards of the KLM :-(

Mark

Indeed this could happen, we do have some native English crew on our KLM Cityhopper operated flights. They formally worked for KLM UK, which is a successor of the Norwich based Air UK Airline.

Paul

I regrettably have to agree with Annemarie. On flights to/from Gothenburg this has happened on more than one occasion as well. Not an big issue though

Djamilla

This is because of what Mark said, Annemarie.
Sorry to hear you experienced it as negative though…

Arjan Koole

There are a few other exceptions, for example: when my girlfriend and I fly to Japan for our vacations there are also a few (mostly two) native Japanese attendants on board. These speak English and Japanese, but no Dutch.

Which is quite reasonable, really. (Always lovely crews)

Djamilla

That is correct, Arjan!. But, beside the Japanese speaking crew, Dutch crew is always scheduled as well. ;)

Gareth

Number 4 should be fact, thunderstorms do increase the risk of aviation accidents, there are however many safety standards that have to be met to ensure that the risk is greatly reduced as well as special equipment to keep the aircraft safe. If your going to bust myths and facts please do it truthfully and I say this respectfully.

Djamilla

Hi Gareth

An aircraft is a Faraday cage, which offers pretty good protection from lightning strikes. Aircraft are sometimes struck, but this rarely causes problems. You often find a sort of scorch mark on the aircraft’s outer skin where lightning has struck.

The huge thunderstorms we sometimes encounter in the tropics are another matter. A vertical build-up of cloud can, by definition, only occur when there is a large amount of vertical air movement. We prefer to go around these storms, but this is just to avoid the turbulence and discomfort they bring. However, if the cloud is extremely high – it can rise above FL450 (45000′) – it is highly perilous to fly through it. There is so much vertical motion in cloud like this that we avoid doing so at all cost. Somewhere inside these clouds there is also hail, even in the tropics, and this can inflict damage.

We always fly with a weather radar on. This warns us of approaching weather systems and gives us a chance to choose the safest route.

Wind shear is a phenomenon in which the wind close to the ground near thunderstorms changes speed and direction very suddenly. This has led to accidents in the past, but now there are warning systems in place which enable us to either avoid this phenomenon or to postpone take-off or landing until it has passed.

Cyriel

Agree Gareth.

If there was no risk an aircraft would not fly around. In fact the major risk in a thunderstorm is not the light night, it’s the strong and violent wind patterns and possible icing.

Most aircraft can handle the icing, but I think any sane pilot would try to avoid flying through an anvil cloud here in Florida or another major storm system if it can be avoided.

Joshua

There’s a 1.9 m cap for crew?

Darn it… another dream dashed.

Djamilla

But another one gained? ;)

Clau

leuk stukje alleen de laatste zin leest een beetje raar! Denk dat er 2 woorden zijn omgedraaid

Bonnie Parren

Goed gezien. Het is aangepast.

Simon

Languages: on your intercontinental flight, the senior purser always speaks 5 languages: dutch, german, english, french and spanish.

Steven

I know KLM is an old airline, but using a Union Jack from before 1801 is pushing it a bit ;)

DGR

“length” is when a person is lying down, “height” is when they are standing up… as I presume the cabin crew is doing most of the time. The Dutch word is the same but the English is not. Speaking of bilingualism…

Djamilla

You are so right! *refresh*

Phemo

Het is juist dat de meeste luchtvaartmaatschapijen geen rij 13 hebben, echter in sommige Chinese toestellen bestaat rij 13 wel.

Cyriel

Niet alleen Chinese hoor. United en American Airlines hebben ook gewoon een rij 13.

Raz

Transavia heeft op hun Boeing 737-700 ook “gewoon” rij 13.

Marty

EasyJet heeft ook gewoon een rij 13 in de meeste van hun vliegtuigen

Frans

In een Chinees toestel is er geen rij 6.

Petrik

so I cannot be a steward as I am 197 cm tall, right? If so, said cause blue fits me well :D

Fred Teifeld

Love the blog posts, especially this one. When I was a child, the toilets used to scare me a little only because of the noise and having no idea where “things” went.

After so many years of traveling, I actually find it very funny with all the technological advancements that the on board toilets are exactly the same (At least outwardly and the sound they make.)

All that aside, I always look forward to my next KLM flight (Unfortunately they dont happen often enough for me) and I have always left a KLM flight with a big smile on my face.

Service overall and the greatest, nicest and most helpful flight crews I have ever encountered.

Alec

Regarding pilot’s parachutes, as my brother (a pilot) once told me when I was young.

“It’s not so reassuring for the passengers if the crew run past them with parachutes on and jump out of the aircraft!”

Melle

Regarding #3. Everybody has under Dutch criminal law the right to arrest someone when caught Red-handed. E.g. In the given example.

Milo

Hi KLM, flying isn’t my hobby – but i don’t mind it either. However, my girlfriend is absolutely terrified… every little ‘shake’ or little ‘dip’ the airplane makes she goes absolutely wild. And when the word ‘ turbulence’ is mentioned she could literally sit with tears in her eyes. Please, tell her something that will assure her, that even when the plane shakes a little bit, that that doesn’t mean “its the end”. As she would like to call it anyway…

Thank you KLM!!

Eddie

Very interesting article. Thank you KLM.

Christian Iglesias-Delaney

Extent, not extend. Being picky, I know. ;)

Valerie

I would like to check another fact. Is it obliged to wear a watch for the cabine crew? I always see the flight attendants wearing very nice watches. Never saw anyone without a watch.

Robert

I worked in the airlines for over 25 years and was also a load controller and gave out seats before the computer was used. Handled some 15 airlines during these years of which Philippine airlines was the only one without row 13

Steve Lawton

With regards to being born on a plane, what is the place of birth that is registered on your birth certificate? I assume if your are flying over say Nigeria that would be the country but obviously not the city? So what happens here? Also what happens if you are born over the say Atlantic Oceon for instance?

Chris

No row 13 may be a fact for KLM, but a lot of other airlines do including Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Etihad, Finnair,Icelandair, LOT, Norwegian, and others. It’s really a silly practice, based on unfounded fears, like getting sucked into a toilet.

Boudewijn

On my flight to Bangkok I noticed that seat number i was missing. Why is seat i missing in your triple 7?

Eugene L

Those are really enlightening. Thank you. Please do correct a spelling mistake for point #4 in the explanatory section. I think you mean “to the extent” and not “to the extend”. I do enjoy your blogs, airline and nation.

David Lamb

Your answer to no 4.. is not entirely complete. Thunderstorms can be dangerous to flight safety. The reason that they do not cause aircraft crashes is that flights are planned very carefully to avoid thunderstorms. However, there are occasions in which weather cannot be entirely avoided. There is a global triad of safety, the pilot, the dispatcher and the air traffic controller. We work together to do everything possible to avoid thunderstorm encounters and will divert or reroute an aircraft if we agree that a flight is unsafe to continue. The aircraft can withstand thunder and lightning, this is true., so one should not be fearful should a line of weather present a challenge for the flight crew. All of us are highly skilled and rigorously trained to deal with the dynamic nature of weather. Safety is our top priority above all else.

Ronald

I made so many flight in my live i wish i could count them but i can’t. No i never read about these myths before but i’ve heard of a few

Eduardo Goicoechea

Hey!! The pressure formula was not described by Sir Isaac Newton, but by Blaise Pascal (that’s why that formula es called Pascal-law).
Greetings from Mexico!!

Ricardo

Nice post!

Ram Senasi

You have a typo

“In addition, lightning striking the aircraft can damage systems, but not to the extend that flight safety is impaired. If this happens, a special comprehensive inspection is conducted once the plane has landed.”

Extend should be extent

BW

Suzy

jeg vil have garr garr ga3#0#82r&;&r8230; jeg også bøsse, hvornår skal jeg give dig pik i munden? den er lidt beskidt, men du kan stadig nyde det

Christian Cohen

I was told by a purser on BA that turberlence is considered the safest part of flying — i have my doubts — any ideas

Tomas

I have another one for you!
Is it true that KLM advocates hunting and killing elephants for their tusks?
FACT: KLM’s entry level loyalty card is still called “Ivory”. This suggests that the airline thinks people should aspire to owning ivory. Much like the value insinuated in the names of the other loyalty levels: silver, gold, platinum. And no, these matetials are not chosen because of their colour. They clearly represent intrinsic value.

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