18 Dirty Facts About Flying Airlines Don’t Want You to Know

If you’re a frequent flyer, there are two approaches to this list of airline secrets you may or may not want to know: 1. Ignore it and carry on in your blissful ignorance of duct tape holding the wing of your aircraft together while flying. Or 2. Read about the awful things that happen on commercial flights, and go in armed with the knowledge of how awful the flight you’re on really is (but possibly avoid dysentery). There’s no option three, so choose wisely, because some of these airline worst practices can’t be unseen.

From odd / surprising (hopefully) places you’ll find poop on a plane to the things a flight attendant might overlook so they get paid, there are an uncomfortable number of scary things airlines don’t want you to know about flying. Culled from the experiences of real pilots, flight attendants, airline staff, ground crew, and TSA officials, these are the reasons logical people are afraid to fly – and even the most seasoned traveler should be at least a bit skeeved out by this list of awful things that happen on planes. 

People Steal the Under-Seat Life Jackets

Somewhere, in a Midwest frat house, is the life jacket you should be using in case of emergency.


Guidelines Exist for the Amount of Screws a Plane Is Allowed to Fly Without

Seems you’d prefer to have zero screws missing, but apparently there’s a threshold of acceptable missing screws on the plane.


Some Airline Employees Don’t Get Paid Until the Flight’s in the Air

Why is this scary for you? Let’s say a pilot, flight attendant, or other airline employee notices something off about the plane (torn carpet, a toilet issue, a possible technical issue) they consider negligible, they may fail to report the condition in case it causes the flight to be substantially delayed or even cancelled.


Plane Water Is Disgusting And Possibly Poop-Filled
A test of tap waters from various airlines, performed by the Wall Street Journal in 2002, found bacteria levels in spigot water to be as much as 100x the allowed limit in the US.
Even the Headphones in Wrappers Have Probably Been Used

If you don’t mind a little bit of sweat, skin flakes, and general ickiness from another passenger, game on.

If You Use the Oxygen Bags for More Than 15 Minutes, You’re Gonna Have a Bad Time

The oxygen masks on planes only supply 15-20 minutes of oxygen. The theory is that the pilots will descend to a height of normal cabin pressurization as soon as an issue is noted.


Nobody Washes the Blankets or Pillows

Enjoy your scabies.

The Emergency Door Handles Are There So Flight Attendants Aren’t Pushed Out

People go nutty whenever there’s a situation involving an emergency exit, and the poor flight attendants – who are trying to get you out safely – are often disregarded like limits on carry-on baggage, necessitating the plane’s version of “Oh Sh*t” bars.


If A Bomb Threat Occurs Over An Ocean, You Likely Won’t Hear About It

Since there’s nowhere to land a giant plane in the middle of an ocean, if a plane gets a bomb threat in the middle of a long haul, you’re unlikely (as a passenger) to hear about it.


Food Service On Night Flights Can Be Delayed Until More People Fall Asleep

Less work for the flight attendants.


The Toilets Can Be Unlocked from the Outside

This is more of a “Charlie from ‘Lost’ getting cranked on heroin” precaution than a “People in row 23 joining the mile-high club” fail-safe, but the fact remains that occupied does not mean you’re free from the possibility of interruption.

Pilots Get Served Different Meals in Case of Food Poisoning

Likely the same meals you’re being offered, so hope you chose the same meal as the pilot who continues at the helm during the other’s bout of food poisoning.

Pilots Routinely Nod Off During Long Flights
While nap breaks are scheduled so one pilot can rest while the other commands a plane once it’s at cruising altitude, most pilots (more than 50% according to this survey) have involuntarily nodded off while in the cockpit.
Somebody Has Probably Changed a Diaper On Your Tray Table

Why bother going to the bathroom to remove your child’s sodden diaper when you could loose it on a small table that most people eat their food on?


Planes Are Frequently Struck by Lightning

Better the plane than you.

If Your Bag Vibrates for ANY Reason, You’ll Be Called Out to Have It Examined

Moral of the story: take the batteries out of your vibrating toys before you fly.

Flight Attendants Are Using Their Cell Phones During the Flight

Apparently the small electronics you’re forbidden to use during the flight are really quite harmless, but if you could check your email on your phone, what’s going to compel you to pay for the $15 in-flight Internet?

The Walkways Are Lit for Emergencies, Not Atmosphere

But hey, enjoy the pretty lights as you’re stepping over small children on your way to the emergency exit.