Flying myths debunked 

Flying has always left us with a tonne of questions and unnecessary anxiety. After all, we’re confined inside a metal tube that’s dashing through the air at 900km/h, 30,000 feet above the ground. 

And with me being a former cabin crew, I tend to get a lot of morbid questions about flying: Can the plane crash from turbulence? Can someone open the emergency door mid-flight, and cause everyone to get sucked out of the plane? Can you get sucked into that cursed whooshy toilet bowl and discarded mid-air along with your poo? Will the plane explode if people don’t turn off their phones? 

Here are some answers to all your burning questions to ease your worries: 

1. What happens if you don’t turn on airplane mode? 

Flying myths - flight mode

What people think: The aircraft navigation system will be disrupted and it will crash.

What actually happens: Nothing, apparently. You might get charged for exorbitant data roaming. Or, your phone battery might drain quicker as it tries to connect to ground signals. But, essentially, nothing happens. 

On a related note, you might also be wondering why you’re always asked to stash your electronic devices during take-off and landing. This one’s simple – it’s not because it’s going to “hack” the plane’s radio comms. Rather, airlines would very much appreciate it if your phone doesn’t impale another passenger should an emergency landing occur. 

2. Why can’t you wear headphones during takeoff/landing?

Why do we need to remove headphones for take off and landing

What people think: Airlines want you to buy their headphones so they can make moolah.

What actually happens: Imagine this: you’re blasting your fave jam on your noise-cancelling headphones as the aircraft leaves the gate. There’s some sort of emergency and the crew are making announcements. You don’t know what the heck is going on because you just got to the chorus of Miley Cyrus’ Flowers. Chaos ensues. 

Safety, in essence, the reason why passengers are usually asked to take off their headphones and earphones during takeoff and landing. 

On the other hand – at least on most major carriers like Singapore Airlines – you can plug your headphones into the inflight entertainment system and continue using them. Any emergency announcements will be blasted straight into your ears so you’ll be aware of what’s happening.

3. Why must you stow your tray table before take-off and landing?

Why do we need to stow the tray table

What people think: The crew want the cabin to be neat.

What actually happens: It’s so that passengers have a clear path for emergency evacuations. In case you have to GTFO in a panic, you’re probably not going to be able to move out of your seat if a tray table is blocking your way. This one’s pretty obvious – I mean, you can barely bend forward to eat, as it is.

4. Why do you need to open your window during takeoff/landing?

why do we need to open windows before take off and landing

What people think: The crew are lazy to open it after landing so they make the passengers do it for them.

What actually happens: Nawww, you’re not a second pair of hands to keep the cabin neat. You are, however, a second pair of eyes for the crew. 

In case you don’t already know, most aircraft’s crew seats are located in the galley or at the emergency exits which have those tiny windows you can barely see out of. So if there’s, say, a fire on the aircraft wing, passengers would be able to spot it and crew will be able to notice that passenger freaking the heck out. 

Another reason for windows being left open is that, in case of an emergency landing, it’d be easier for both passengers and crew to see the aircraft’s surroundings. No one wants end up jumping out of the aircraft into open flames, debris, and of course, open water. 

5. What happens if you smoke on a flight?

What people think: I can secretly smoke in the toilet ‘cos if I can’t see them, they can’t see me! Teehee.

No smoking sign on aircraft lavatory
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

What actually happens: In case you don’t already know, smoking (including e-ciggs) is a big no-no because it’s a major fire hazard. And we certainly do not want some smoker to bring the plane down mid-flight. 

Also, sorry to burst your smokey little bubble, but there are smoke detectors in aircraft toilets. It’s also incredibly easy to see and smell smoke coming from the crevices of the toilet door.

If you decide to do it anyway, you’ll score yourself a free staycay at Changi Prison, or fork out up to $5,000 for the offence. So, maybe tahan till the end of your flight and use that $5,000 to go enjoy your vacay instead.

6. How is Business/First class plated food prepared on the plane?

Singapore Airlines Business Class meal

What people think: There is a secret kitchen and chef onboard.

What actually happens: There’s no chef hiding in the galley, guys. Nor is there a grill or a stove. The less glamorous side of it: the food is mass prepared in kitchens on the ground. It’s frozen and then loaded onto the aircraft. The crew simply reheat these in onboard ovens, and then plate them manually so it looks restaurant-worthy. 

7. Where do pets go during the flight?

What people think: Cargo.

What actually happens: Cargo.

Animals being loaded onto cargo hold
Image credit: Pet Travel

…Unless your pet is a service animal. But of course, you’ll have to submit the necessary documentation to the airline for approval. In any case, different airlines have different requirements, so do a thorough check before you travel. 

However, for most cases of transporting pets – to the cargo hold, they’ll have to go. 

8. What happens to your poo when you flush it down? 

What people think: It gets dumped straight out of the aircraft. Also, you can get sucked into the toilet bowl if the don’t remove your bum in time. 

What actually happens: If every aircraft dumped the contents of its toilets out, it would literally be raining poop over Changi all day. I mean, look at the amount of planes hovering above Singapore alone: 

map of airplanes over Singapore
Image adapted from: FlightRadar24

If it makes you feel any better, everything gets flushed into a septic tank onboard the aircraft. The tank is emptied once the aircraft is on the ground – via a waste truck, not dumped on the ground. 

Airline myths - Aircraft waste disposal truck
An aircraft lavatory waste disposal truck. Not that exciting, right?
Image credit: Aviation Learnings

On the other hand, people can get stuck in onboard toilet bowls. But that has nothing to do with the toilet flush; more of it just being a tight space in which your rear end could get lodged. Maybe just don’t wedge any body part into the toilet bowl, and you’ll be fine. 

9. How do we get enough oxygen through the whole flight?

What people think: There’s a limited amount of oxygen which can run out.

What actually happens: It’s rather technical, but long story short is that the aircraft draws oxygen from the surrounding outside air and processes it for the cabin. So rest assured, there’s enough oxygen for everyone onboard, and you can breathe as much as you like.

10. What is the mist that sometimes comes out pre-flight? 

What people think: Is it … sanitiser

What actually happens: Post-Covid, perhaps we secretly wish so. But it’s actually water vapour, or more specifically condensation. It usually happens in hot weather when the air outside is humid. Pair that with the cold air-con onboard and you’ll get that signature fog coming out from the cabin vents above the windows.

11. Can someone open the emergency doors mid-flight? 

What people think: Nah … or can it? Are we doomed if someone tries? We’ve watched enough action movies to harbour the fear that someone could actually pop the door open mid-flight, causing everyone to get sucked out of the plane.

Airline myths - Aircraft emergency exit

What actually happens: Cue invasive thoughts of opening the emergency door you’re sitting right next to. But the reality is that nothing that exciting will likely ever happen to you. With the cabin being pressurised, it would pretty much take Hulk-like strength to open the doors while the plane is in the air. 

On the ground, however, it’s a different story  – as seen in multiple past incidences of passengers opening aircraft doors before take-off and after landing. 

12. If the turbulence is severe, does it mean the plane will crash? 

What people think: Are we going to drop out of the sky!?

What actually happens: No harm saying your prayers, but as far as we know, no planes have ever crashed as a result of turbulence. We might second-guess this as the plane dips and shakes, but commercial aircraft are built to withstand strong gusts of wind while cruising. 

Flying myths - aircraft cabin
Unpopular opinion: turbulence is perfect for rocking you to sleep.
Image credit: Unsplash

The most high-risk phase of the flight, however, is during take-off and landing when you’re closer to the ground. So, best to listen to the crew when they tell you to buckle up and stow your belongings.

13. Is flying safer than driving? 

Singapore Airlines A380 at gate

What people think: How can it be safer when you have gravity working against you?

What actually happens: We can’t really argue with stats here. It’s a pretty well-known fact that people are more likely to perish in car crashes compared to plane crashes. 

According to the World Health Organization, road fatalities amount to about 1.3 million per year, whereas Flight Global reported 229 deaths resulting from air crashes in 2022. Maff that up and the likelihood of the average human being in a plane crash is much less than a road accident.

14. Can you actually join the Mile High Club?

What people think: Easy peasy, right? Just use the toilet or get a blanket? 

What actually happens: In the simplest of Singaporean terms, can is can. But remember, you’re still governed under Singapore law, which means public seggsy time is illegal as stated in section 27A of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (MOPONA).

Suites Class on Singapore Airlines
The A380 suite on Singapore Airlines. Image for illustrative purposes only.

But of course, the law doesn’t always deter people from giving in to their primal urges. Lavatories and premium class seats are usually hotspots. But do you really want to get it on in a squeezy toilet that smells nasty af and is a cesspool of bacteria? Also, you might like to know that the crew can likely spot you, even in premium classes, because they have these tools called eyes.

Debunking flying myths for a peace of mind

As much as many people love to hate on flying, it’s really not that bad. Air travel still remains to be a reliable and safe mode of transport, and we’re not going to let these anxieties ruin our vacation. Needless to say, keep these flying myths in mind the next time you board a plane. You’ll be able to impress ma when she asks, “boy/girl ah, why must turn off phone ah?

Haven’t had enough? Read more behind-the-scenes flying stories here:

Cover image adapted from: Flickr

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