No one has more insider knowledge about flying than airline workers.
To unearth 14 lesser-known facts about flying, Business Insider surveyed more than 80 airline workers including flight attendants, gate agents, ticket agents, and other airport customer service reps and scoured the web including Reddit and Quora for more.
Whether you want more attentive service or to avoid getting kicked off your flight, read on for the inside scoop:
You can’t physically open a door mid-flight — though trying could get you kicked off the plane
- Saturday Night Live/YouTube
Annette Long, a flight attendant with 13 years of experience, tells Business Insider that, though opening a door mid-flight is impossible to do, trying it will still get you into trouble. As we’ve seen in previous incidents, passengers who try to make a jump for it while the plane is in the air usually wind up restrained mid-flight and in handcuffs once the plane lands. In some cases, pilots will make an emergency landing to get the passenger off the flight.
“I don’t make those decisions,” Long says. “I convey the information to the cockpit and the chief flight attendant, and they make the decision about whether or not we’re going to land and get someone off the plane.
“Most of the pilots say to us, ‘If you’ve got a problem with them, I’ve got a problem with them,’ and they will back us up 100%,” Long says.
Airplanes aren’t nearly as clean as they might look
- Paula Bronstein / Getty Images
As Business Insider previously reported, microbiologists have found tray tables to be the least hygienic surface on an airplane.
As one flight attendant writes on Reddit, people change their babies’ diapers on their tray tables all the time. And then, not every tray table gets wiped thoroughly between each flight.
What’s more, “remember, they’re using a rag to start row one, and when they end up in row 35, that rag has wiped a lot of tables,” Long says.
The flight attendant writing on Reddit also says that many unsanitary incidents occur on the plane that passengers rarely see or consider, like accidents in the lavatory or a passenger’s seat. “Just so you know, when you go to the bathroom and you’re barefoot or you’re in your socks, that’s not water on the floor,” Long says.
“It’s just not the cleanest environment,” she says.
You can bring your e-cigs, but the plane won’t take off with a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on board
A few exploding items have been banned from airplanes in recent years, though some not in their entirety.
Last March, a Delta Air Lines flight was delayed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport after an e-cigarette belonging to a passenger ignited on board the flight.
But while the lithium ion batteries in e-cigarettes have shown a propensity to ignite if they are damaged, battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices are permitted on planes as long as they’re not checked or being used.
Your exploding Galaxy Note 7, however, is a different story. These smartphone devices are completely banned by the Department of Transportation from air transportation to, from, or in the US.
You really should avoid the water
In response to the Quora question “What are the weirdest things flight attendants have seen in their line of duty?” former flight attendant Heather Wilde said among the strangest were people who made soup using the airline water. “Guys, the water lines haven’t ever been cleaned – ever,” she said.
“Flight attendants will not drink hot water on the plane. They will not drink plain coffee, and they will not drink plain tea,” another flight attendant told Business Insider.
The EPA found that one in every eight planes failed the agency’s standards for water safety and 15% of of tested aircraft water systems contained potentially harmful bacteria, Business Insider reports.
Flight attendants aren’t paid until the plane takes off
- iStock/jean-marie guyon
Flight attendants tell Business Insider that they only get paid for flight hours, not for boarding or deplaning. “So, for example, your duty day could actually be 12 hours, but you only get paid for six hours of work,” one flight attendant says.
This means the job isn’t always the most lucrative.
“When I started flying for the second time, 10 years ago, I qualified for food stamps,” Madeleine Doyle, a 20-year veteran flight attendant who has served two 10-year stints traveling both international and domestic routes, tells Thrillist.
“Starting pay is abysmal. The new kids that start out today are broke and live 24 people to an apartment,” Doyle says.
What’s more, flight attendants’ unions won’t cover them if they get injured trying to lift your bags into the overhead bin. And since being out of work and out of money if no fun for anybody, you shouldn’t expect flight attendants to take that risk for you.
You have a better chance of avoiding delays if you fly earlier in the day
A former airport customer service agent Travis O’Neal wrote on Quora, “As a general rule, the later in the day you travel, the more likely you are to catch a delay.”
Flight attendants ask you to open the shades for a reason
“According to my training, the emergency exit shades have to be up because flight attendants are required to assess the conditions outside before they open the door. If there’s fire, deep water, or rocks outside that exit, that would make it unsafe for us to go through there, and the flight attendant would have to make that determination fairly quickly,” Long says.
Checking in last comes with a perk
Ramp and gate agent Thomas Lo Sciuto wrote on Quora that your best option to get your checked luggage from baggage claim first is to be one of the last passengers to check your bags.
“Bags will always be loaded front to back on the bag carts because more weight has to be in the forward carts for stability while driving, and if you loaded them back to front you couldn’t guarantee that the front cart would be fully loaded.
“So if you check in last, your bags will be in the last bag cart, which will make them the last on the aircraft and the first off the aircraft at your destination. If they are the first off the aircraft, they will most likely be the first on the bag carts, and then the first to be unloaded at baggage claim.”
“The best way to ensure your bag gets to you the quickest is to ask the counter agent very nicely if they will let you gate check your bag. The downside of that method is that you will not be able to pack liquids or any other items that cannot go in a carry-on bag as you will need to bring the bag with you through the security checkpoint and to the gate.”
You’re not allowed to BYOB
“Some people will go to the local liquor store and bring their mini bottles of booze on the plane,” Long says. “We always know who you are; we always find it.
“You can’t serve yourself,” she explains. “We need to know how much you’ve had to drink so we’re not overserving you, because the higher you fly and the longer you go, the more the alcohol affects your brain.”
You could be out tens of thousands of dollars if you deploy the emergency slide
In 2014, a passenger on a China Eastern Airlines plane who said he wanted to “get off the plane quicker” deployed the emergency slide after the aircraft landed at Sanya Phoenix International Airport. The incident caused the aircraft to be delayed for two hours and reportedly cost about $16,000 in damage.
Last April, a United Airlines flight attendant pulled the same stunt, costing the airline between $6,000 and $12,000 just to repack the undamaged slide into its container.
You might have to sit near a dead person on your flight
Long says that no one ever officially ‘dies’ on a flight – “we don’t pronounce them,” she explains – that happens once the plane lands. But this doesn’t mean no further action is taken once there is nothing medically left to do.
Long says, though thankfully she’s never been in the situation, if a passenger were to die mid-flight, she would likely keep them in their seat. “I would probably put a blanket over the person so it would become less of something to look at. You want to maintain dignity and respect for someone who passed away. You don’t want anyone staring at them. That would be really sad,” she says.
It turns out there is no one-size-fits-all rule about what to do with a deceased passenger. According to Quartz, the International Air Transport Association, which represents most of the world’s airlines, advises flight crew to move a deceased passenger to a seat with few fellow travelers nearby. If this isn’t possible, flight crew might place the deceased in the galley or move the passenger to first class. Or, in the rare case there is one on the aircraft, crew could place the deceased in a compartment referred to as the “corpse cupboard.” If no seats are available, the deceased would likely be left in their seat.
There are still dress codes on some planes
- Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Whether you’re flying first class or economy on certain airlines like United, American, and Delta Air Lines, there are some bare bones dress codes. For example, shoes. You should wear some.
The New York Times also reports that United doesn’t look kindly upon those who are “not properly clothed,” while American may ban passengers “clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers.”
And if you’re looking to get an upgrade to first class, while other considerations like frequent flyer status will be made first, it’s still a really good idea to look respectable. As one flight attendant with three year’s experience told Business Insider:
“I think it’s great we don’t have to travel in suits and high heels anymore. You can be comfortable. But you can also be classy and comfortable. Check your air carrier’s rules – there are still dress codes sometimes in first class and, who knows, maybe, miracle of the day, you’ll get that cheap upgrade to first class. Be comfortable, but if you can avoid wearing your pajamas, that’s great.”
Some flight attendants can use tasers on passengers
- Christopher Furlong/Getty
Recently, Korean Air “loosened” its usage policy for tasers located on board its aircraft, CNN reported.
“We have decided to improve our conditions and procedure on using Taser guns to cope with violent acts and disturbances on board in a fast and efficient manner,” Korean Air wrote in a statement to Reuters.
As Business Insider’s transportation reporter Ben Zhang reports, it’s unclear how the airline will implement the new procedure or when it will take effect.
However, according to Reuters, prior to this update, the equipment was only allowed to be used in situations where the lives of the passengers and crew were in danger or if the safety of the flight was under threat.
The policy is designed to give cabin crew more leeway in the decision to use tasers, Zhang reports.
The policy shift comes one week after Korean Air drew criticism for its handling of an unruly passenger on a flight from Hanoi, Vietnam to Seoul.
On December 20, 80’s pop star Richard Marx stepped in to help the Korean Air cabin crew subdue a physically aggressive passenger. On Twitter, Marx criticized the crew of being “ill equipped to handle the situation.” In an Instagram post, Marx’s wife, former MTV VJ Daisy Fuentes, who was also on the flight, accused Korean Air flight attendants of not knowing how to use the on-board tasers and ropes.
Service is better at the back of the plane
As Annie Kingston, a flight attendant for four years, writes for Oyster:
“While most passengers tend to choose seats that are at the front of the aircraft so that they can disembark first and have a better chance of securing their preferred meal option, flight attendants know that if you’re sitting towards the back, you’ll receive the most attentive service.
“The reason is simple: We like to avoid responding to call bells from the front of the plane because answering one means potentially flaunting whatever item the passenger has requested to everyone else along the way. This can cause a problem since planes often don’t have enough extra vodka, pillows, earplugs, and toothbrushes, or the time on shorter flights to deviate from the service schedule.
“For passengers sitting near the back of the plane, however, it’s much easier to slip in that second mini bottle of wine.”