4 Reasons Behind the Weird Stuff Airplanes Make Us Do

We’re not saying it’s right, but there is a reason for it
4 Reasons Behind the Weird Stuff Airplanes Make Us Do

Go on an airplane, and you’ll have to take part in rituals that don’t seem to make any sense. You might turn to a total stranger and complain about all that rigamarole, and they will agree with you. By the time you land, the two of you will be fast friends.

Much of this airplane nonsense has real explanations behind it. For example, have you ever wondered what the deal is with airplane food? We have the answer for you! And have you questioned why TSA agents seem to spend so much more time on you than on everyone else? It’s because you’re so damn attractive, that’s why. For more such explanations, read on. 

Your Phone’s Airplane Mode Has Nothing to Do With Plane Safety

Your phone’s airplane mode is great for shielding you from all calls and texts, and for extending your battery life, but the main use (so we think) is to keep you from bringing an aircraft down. Radiofrequency interference can mess with the pilot’s equipment, so if your phone were sending out pings willy-nilly, you could confuse your pilot into pointing the plane straight down, or even landing in Newark.

That’s what people used to tell each other, anyway. Then phones evolved, and cockpits evolved, and everyone studied the issue closely till they concluded your phone really poses no danger. You still do have to put your phone in airplane mode for takeoff and landing, but that’s not an FAA rule. It’s an FCC one. And the FCC mandates this even if you’re flying in a balloon, which lacks any electronic equipment at all.

hot-air balloon

Aaron Burden/Unsplash

If you see anyone livestreaming their balloon takeoff, legally, you can shoot them down. 

They mandate this not to protect cockpit equipment but for the sake of people on the ground. If everyone in a plane has their phone on while flying at a low altitude, that puts a sudden brief strain on nearby cell towers as the plane goes past. For a tower anywhere near an airport, that adds up to a large number of strains from a large number of planes. The towers aren't designed to deal with this, particularly when the signals come from straight up.

How important is it that we protect towers from those bursts of stress? Let’s put it this way: It’s important enough that the FCC has a rule and the airplane warns you to switch to flight mode, but not so important that anyone makes sure you follow that instruction. If you’re talking on your phone during takeoff, yeah, a flight attendant will admonish you, but if your phone’s just in your pocket, no one checks to make sure it’s on airplane mode. There’s still a chance that an old phone might lead to a touch of buzzing in the old radio of an old cockpit, but if the danger of your phone frying anything was significant, we wouldn’t be relying on the honor system here. 

They Dim the Lights to Get Your Eyes Ready for a Crash

The cabin lights go down as the plane descends. It seems like they’re getting you mentally prepared for landing. They’re getting you ready to transition back to life on the ground, much like when they pass out those chilled towels. 

Hot Towels

Christopher Doyle

Not to be confused with the warm towels, which transition you to life in the air.

The real reason they do this is they want your irises nice and wide. Takeoff and landing are the two parts of the trip when crashes are most common, and by dimming the lights, they adapt your eyes to the darkness that will be forced upon you all if you do crash. When that crash comes, there’ll be no time for adjustment: They want you up and ready to evacuate, pronto. On a similar note…

You Raise the Shades to See If the Wing’s on Fire

Along with telling you to straighten your tray and seat back, your flight attendant insists that you raise your window shade as the plane descends. All these moves are measures in case the plane crashes, but while the seat and tray maneuvers shift you into a safe position, the window bit is about turning you into a lookout. 

If the plane crashes, one side may be covered in obstructions or flames. The crew need to spot this when deciding which emergency exits to open. There’s also the possibility that passengers will be the first ones to notice such damage, and making everyone raise their shades increases the chance of that. You’re free to keep your shade down mid-flight because crashes are rare then, and because any passenger who sees a gremlin on a wing then is clearly hallucinating. 

airplane window

Killian Pham/Unsplash

It’s also mandatory to raise your shade because the city looks awesome.

All this might make you shiver with fear from now until the next time a flight crew makes you go through this routine. Don’t. The FAA doesn’t have a rule about raising shades, and some airlines don’t even bother with it.

Why There’s No Security at Baggage Claim

Usually, when we share some fact with you, it’s because we find it fascinating and hope you will too. Occasionally, it’s because we find the fact obvious. We recently discovered some people don’t find it obvious, and we now have to share the truth — as both a public service and a rant. Such is the case when we saw the following tweet.

Why were tens of thousands of people liking this observation? This observation, which wasn’t even this person’s own but rather one they’d screencapped and then reposted without assigning credit? Was there some funny irony between this celeb poster’s identity and the observation? No, that wasn’t it. Or was everyone mocking this question because it was so ridiculous, because the answer’s so self-evident? Hopefully, some people were doing that, but looking at what everyone replied, it seemed that many people weren’t. Many people thought this is some real contradiction or hypocrisy in how airports operate. It isn’t. 

Airport security is all about ensuring no weapons or explosives enter the plane. Maybe they go overboard on that, or maybe they do an insufficient job, but either way, it’s all about protecting the flight. Inter-passenger theft is not their concern. If someone does pick up your suitcase, they’re free to run and catch a cab, but they can’t board a flight without passing through security again, so nothing they do at baggage claim is a threat to flight safety. 

baggage claim

Dimitri Karastelev/Unsplash

The crowds with bags awaiting security actually are an underrated threat, but baggage claim isn’t. 

Other parts of the airport are similarly blasé about personal ownership. The flight crew doesn’t carefully monitor which overhead bins you raid as you disembark (sometimes, people stow their bags far from where they sit). The TSA doesn’t watch closely to make sure, after passing through security, that you don’t grab someone else’s phone (this theft would be very easy to pass off as an innocent mistake, come to think of it). They just don’t worry about it.

You shouldn’t worry about it either. First, because people are a lot more honest than we give them credit for. Second, because air travelers in particular are so stressed and wrapped up in their own agendas that they’re less likely than the average person to be considering such extracurricular activities. Third, because terrorism has made people so paranoid that they’re far too scared of possible bombs in your unattended belongings to lay a finger on them.

But the biggest reason you needn’t worry about someone grabbing your stuff at baggage claim is simply that no one wants your stupid luggage. Check-in baggage rarely contains valuables (the airline advises you about this). You just have some clothes and crap in there, and while you personally value them highly, no other passenger is keen on a grab bag of secondhand shirts and underwear that probably aren’t their size. Unless you’re worried about that one weird guy who was staring at you in the lounge now seeking out your suitcase so he can do something unmentionable with the contents, in which case, uh, fair point.

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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