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Aviation mythbusters: dispelling the top aviation myths - banner

Aviation mythbusters: dispelling the top aviation myths


Have you ever heard that alcohol is more potent on a plane, or that pilots simply sit back and relax while the auto-pilot flies the aircraft? Air travel is full of misconceptions and half-truths. Here’s a look at the top five aviation myths and why they’re false, from dirty cabin air to electrical devices interfering with navigation systems.

Our top five aviation myths, busted

1. Planes fly on autopilot

Many people believe that pilots simply sit back and let the autopilot system do all the work, but this is a total myth. Modern aircraft technology may be extremely sophisticated, but planes can’t fly themselves (at least not for now). The autopilot setting controls different aspects of flying such as the altitude, flight course, thrust and navigation, but pilots need to programme this tool. In short, the technology simply responds to what the crew has told it to do.

While unmanned drones can fly autonomously, commercial jets are a whole different story. Pilots spend years training and honing their skills, especially these days when they need to understand and use new cockpit technology. The job requires constant concentration and high-pressure decision-making, especially in emergency situations, as well as during take-off and landing. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’ll never see self-piloted planes take to the skies; in fact, autonomous commercial flights might be closer to reality than you’d think. If you’d like to know more, read our blog post all about the future of unmanned flight and aircraft technology.

2. Chartering a private jet is very expensive

Man in a suit talking on a mobile phone looking out of the window of a private jet, with a glass of champagne in the foreground
Man in a suit talking on a mobile phone looking out of the window of a private jet, with a glass of champagne in the foreground

Flying by private jet may sound expensive, but today it’s not just stars and business moguls who can afford to travel by private jet charter. Depending on the type of aircraft and route you choose, there are some great private jet charter deals available. Look out for empty leg flights, also known as empty sector flights, for discounts. This can make private flights extremely cost-effective, especially if you travel in a group. So, how do empty legs work?

When a client books a one-way flight, the jet has to make the return journey afterwards. To avoid the cost of flying the aircraft back empty, these trips are often heavily discounted. You can often find the best empty leg deals in the summer when people fly to holiday homes for the season, but there are options available all year round. If you’re willing to book last-minute and are flexible with your travel schedule, you can find a great empty leg deal.

3. Your electrical devices could cause a crash

It’s a common myth that using electrical devices (especially mobile phones) during a flight can interfere with the plane’s navigation system. In reality, there’s never been a documented case of that happening. The European Safety Agency allows electronic devices on planes as long as the airline permits; and some private jets even boast their own Wi-Fi. So why do so many airlines ask you to switch off devices or turn them on to airplane mode?

In the USA, the Federal Communications Commission has banned all mobile phone use on planes, not because it interferes with navigation but because the signal rebounds off multiple phone towers and clogs up the ground networks. Additional reasons might include ensuring that passengers pay attention to the cabin crew briefing or making sure devices don’t get thrown around the plane during turbulent take-offs and landings.

4. Cabin air can make you sick

Ever fallen ill after you’ve flown? Many people believe that’s down to recycled air spreading germs from sick passengers, but in fact, aircraft these days have cutting-edge filter systems that can remove over 95 percent of germs. Known as High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters or True High Efficiency Particulate Air (True HEPA) filters, these hospital-grade systems clean and replace the air up to 30 times an hour.

Honeywell’s popular environmental control systems, for example, are commonly used on jets to remove germs, toxins, mould and viruses from the atmosphere. Although cabin air may be cleaner than you think, commercial aircraft are usually only deep-cleaned once a day and tray tables, seats and buckles can be germ havens. So it’s still worth bringing antibacterial gel when you fly.

5. You get drunk faster on a plane

Many people are under the illusion that alcohol has a more powerful effect when you’re on a plane. This myth stems from the idea that because there are lower oxygen levels at high altitude, the body can’t metabolise alcohol as well, so you get intoxicated faster. However, according to Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) studies reported by the New York Times, altitude doesn’t make alcohol more potent.

That’s not to say that drinking on a plane won’t make you feel extra tipsy, though. That’s because planes aren’t pressurised to sea level, so there is less oxygen in the air and you’re likely to get dehydrated faster. The bottom line? Enjoying a few drinks while you fly won’t leave you completely sloshed, but you should be careful to stay hydrated.

More common aviation myths

Modern jet in flight in flight during a lightning storm
Modern jet in flight in flight during a lightning storm

There are plenty more aviation myths out there. Here are some other common misconceptions about flying:

  • Cabin doors can fly open. It’s actually impossible for anyone to open the cabin doors during a flight, because the cabin is pressurised. Opening the doors would take a super-human level of strength.
  • You can’t take tweezers on a plane. Actually, you can. The list of permitted items on planes also includes things like sewing needles, disposable razors and scissors with blades less than 6cm. The Transport Security Administration has a useful list of which items you can and can’t take onboard.
  • Lightning strikes are dangerous. Modern jets are built to withstand lightning strikes and they pose absolutely no danger. In fact, you won’t even feel them.
  • Planes dump human waste mid-air. This bizarre myth has been categorically disproved by the FAA and would never be allowed for environmental reasons. The lavatory contents are only removed at the airport.

Now we’ve debunked those common aviation myths, why not find out more about chartering a private jet for all your travel needs?

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