8 secret safety features you didn’t know existed on an aeroplane
What do Nasa, William Shatner and night flights have in common? They all play a part in avoiding air travel mishaps
Do you know why flight attendants tell you, in case of sudden pressure loss, you have to pull the yellow mask towards you? Ever wondered why the windows have tiny holes in them (surely not a good idea at 36,000 feet)?
Even if you’re a seasoned traveller, chances are you won’t be aware of many of the hidden safety features that are built into an aeroplane. Here are eight of those amazing elements, and a look at how protect you.
1. Yellow hooks on the wings
In case of an emergency that requires the pilot to land on the water, you’ll be grateful for these little yellow hooks. The number and placement of hooks on each wing vary from plane to plane, but they all do the same thing: help passengers to safety.
2. No oxygen tanks
Let’s say your plane does depressurise. You know the drill – pull down on the mask to extend the tube, cover your nose and mouth with the yellow cup, and always put your own mask on first. But wait, why do you have to pull down on the mask? It’s not to reach your face. It’s actually to start a chemical reaction.
There are no oxygen tanks on aeroplanes – they’re just too heavy and bulky to be practical. Instead, the panel above your head contains a chemical oxygen generator. It’s a small canister that holds sodium chlorate, barium peroxide, and a pinch of potassium perchlorate. And when all three mix together, the extremely hot chemical reaction lets off oxygen. #science
3. Fire-resistant cushion
Your seat cushion functions as a flotation device, but did you know it’s also fireproof? Let’s take this back a few decades. During a 1967 test for the first Apollo moon mission, three astronauts were killed when the interior of the capsule caught on fire. An investigation showed that the craft was filled with highly flammable materials including the foam in the seat cushions.
This led Nasa to conduct a whole slew of research for a way to cover flammable things with a fire-resistant material. So in 1984, the Federal Aviation Administration issued new regulations regarding the flammability of aeroplane seats. And in fact, it’s estimated that 20 to 25 lives are saved each year because their seats don’t catch on fire.
4. Black triangle
Above some of those flame-resistant seats, you might see a little black or red triangle. Those triangles actually signify what’s nicknamed “William Shatner’s seat.” It’s a reference to a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone, in which Shatner’s character sees a gremlin on the wing of the plane.
The triangles signal to the crew which windows have the best view of the wings in case a flap malfunctions or to check to see if they’ve been de-iced.
5. Little window hole
While you’re staring at the gremlin on the wing, you might notice a small hole in the window. Usually not a good feature for a window, but necessary in this case. It’s called a bleed hole, and it prevents your plane window from blowing out. That’s because the air pressure inside the plane is so much greater than outside, which would cause any normal window to explode.
But the windows on an aeroplane are made up of three panes: inner, middle, and outer. The outer pane takes the pressure, the middle acts as a fail-safe, and the inner is just there so passengers don’t mess with the other two. The hole also lets moisture escape from the gaps so the windows don’t fog up or freeze.
6. Dimming lights
If the idea of your window popping out mid-flight causes you stress, try to keep the shade up anyway.
That simple action could give you peace of mind and potentially save your life. Before taking off and landing at night, crews will often dim the cabin lights and ask passengers to open their shades. This is to give their eyes time to adjust to the darkness.
In case of evacuation, passengers’ eyes will already be acclimated to the blackness outside. If the lights stayed on, their eyes would need time to adjust and they’d end up wasting precious seconds stumbling blindly instead of quickly evacuating.
7. Hidden bathroom lock
You may have heard of the mile-high club. While joining it might seem like a fun idea, you won’t get the kind of privacy you might expect. In fact, a crew member could open the bathroom door at any moment no matter if you locked it or not.
On the outside of most aeroplane bathroom doors is a little plate that says “LAVATORY”. Under that little plate is a latch that unlocks the door from the outside. This allows the crew to access the bathroom in case of an emergency.
Best to keep your romantic liaisons, um, grounded.
While you’re in the bathroom, you might notice an ashtray. “But wait,” you think to yourself, “I thought it was illegal to smoke on planes!” You’re right! Smoking on a plane has been banned on most airlines since the 1990s and could saddle you with a fine of thousands of dollars and even prison time.
Even with the threat of a fine, the Federal Aviation Administration isn’t taking chances. It lists ashtrays in bathrooms as legally required to meet the minimum equipment needed for a plane. Rubbish bins on a plane are mostly filled with flammable materials, like cocktail napkins. So tossing a cigarette butt into one of those would not be good.
After all, there are still plenty of things in a plane that aren’t covered in flame-resistant material.