Most of us take human flight for granted. We board a plane in one city, get off in another, and rarely think about the scientific laws and incredible technology that make the in-between possible. Flying through turbulence, or experiencing a bumpy landing is like getting caught off-guard by a pop quiz you didn't study for. Unfortunately, all you have to go off of are some vague statistics you heard about flight being the safest way to travel and terrifying plane crashes you see in movies and on the news. It turns out, there are a handful of pretty crucial things we've gotten just completely wrong about how people fly and get killed while doing so.
5Any Hole in an Aircraft Will Eventually Tear Open the Plane
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
Whether caused by gunfight or a violent bit of turbulence, a hole in the side of a plane will continue to grow and suck people out into the sky until it's closed or the plane has disintegrated. It's so reliable that in Iron Man 3, the bad guy says "Go Fish" before he blows off a plane's door because he knows the resulting hole is about to suck every person and chair out into the cold sunlight like it opened under the house in Poltergeist.
In Goldfinger, Bond shoots out a small plane window and holds tight while the villain is sucked out from clear across the room.
The hole in the side of the plane from Passenger 57 spends 2 minutes acting as a massive wind tunnel, before it sucks the plane's door clean off, leaving a bigger hole and an even suckier wind tunnel.
This is, of course, why airlines are so insistent that you wear a seatbelt and refrain from gunplay, even after the plane has reached a safe cruising altitude.
In 2011, a 5-square-foot hole (the size of most windows in your house assuming you don't live on a cruise ship) opened in the roof of a Southwest Airlines flight. It was cruising at 37,000 feet, meaning the pressure inside and outside of the plane were at what scientists refer to as peak explodiness. But when the explosive decompression occurred, the hole didn't suck anyone out, nor did it grow in size and ferocity as time went on. And it wasn't the first time such a dramatic action movie spectacle has failed to develop. That's just not how holes in airplanes behave.
We're not going to lie to you. Having a hole in the airplane you're inside of is, generally speaking, worse than not having that happen. When a hole opens in an airplane, the inside of that plane will experience something called explosive decompression. People who happen to be directly next to especially large holes when this occurs can be sucked out -- it's happened a handful of times throughout the history of commercial flight. It has to be a giant hole, the people need to be directly next to it when it opens, and they can't be wearing their seatbelt. So, close but no dice Final Destination. Turns out rows or airplane seats generally aren't designed to easily slide out like the drawers of a card catalogue.
In fact, if you aren't immediately sucked out, and you don't go stick your head out like a dog on the highway, you should be OK. Whether bowel movement or decompression, the modifier "explosive" means a whole lot of decompression is taking place in an extremely brief period of time. When the barrier between the pressurized air inside the plane and the low pressure air outside is removed, the air inside the plane is going to explode out of the hole in a matter of seconds. If the plane doesn't disintegrate when the initial hole opens, it's pretty safe to assume the hole will not grow any larger, because the decompression is over, and also because it turns out planes are made of metal and not wet tissue paper.