Shocking Airplane Secret Features Airlines Don’t Want You To Know About

All aboard for some shocking airplane secret features airlines don't want you to know about!


There’s a lot most folks don’t know about those big, crazy metal tubes we send up into the sky. Let's go on a journey of some astounding airplane secret features that you never knew existed.

Air Marshals

When it comes to air travel, one of the biggest concerns when boarding is who will be in the seat next to you. While it’s all too easy to spot a particularly annoying passenger, have you ever really stopped to wonder exactly who you’re sharing your space in the sky with? It turns out, some casual customers aren’t quite as they seem, at all.

Air marshals, sometimes known as sky marshals, are armed and specially trained law enforcement officers whose job it is to fly around, disguised as regular passengers, in case something serious goes down up in the clouds.

dead body on plane

There can be up to 30,000 commercial flights in the United States daily and only an estimated 2,000 US air marshals currently employed for the purpose of attending flights, meaning stationing one on every flight would be impossible.

In fact, some estimates suggest air marshals can be found on fewer than 1% of flights, as agents are only deployed on flights that have been highlighted as posing a higher potential safety risk.

While it’s an air marshal’s job to blend in with the crowd, there are some small tell tale signs that might mean you’re sharing the skies with a secret agent. The first thing to know is that air marshals mostly travel alone without any proper luggage, but sometimes fly in pairs.

While they might board with their partner, the two agents will never sit together and will each take an aisle seat towards the back of the plane for a clear view of the passenger cabin.

Air Marshals Disguised as Passengers

While on the job, air marshals aren’t allowed to sleep, drink alcohol, or even wear headphones to ensure they’re constantly alert to anything suspicious. They also tend to opt for baggy clothing since they’re carrying a gun, which is either attached to their ankle or close to their waist.

Ultimately air marshals are there to protect you, and while flight attendants are made aware who air marshals are on a flight, passengers are not supposed to know who they are.

So, if you ever think you’ve spotted an air marshal, drawing attention to your suspicions is just about the worst thing you can do, as revealing their identity could highlight them as targets to any potential villainous characters on the flight.

Oxygen Masks

The emergency yellow oxygen mask is an essential part of every inflight safety demonstration, but they don’t actually contain oxygen at all. While you might assume that airplane oxygen masks are attached to oxygen filled tanks like those used by scuba divers, that is not the case.

Instead of oxygen filled tanks, airplanes often use what’s known as an oxygen candle. Those oxygen candles are chemical cartridges in a box above where the masks are deployed.

Airplane Uses Oxygen Candles

Most airlines instruct passengers to pull down on their mask to start the flow of oxygen. That tugging motion initiates a reaction between distinct chemicals, which usually include barium peroxide; sodium chlorate; and potassium perchlorate.

While it may not sound like a life saving combination, those chemicals react to produce oxygen when heated, which is exactly what happens when an oxygen candle is activated. When a passenger tugs a mask, a firing pin is pulled from the cylinder which triggers a tiny explosion that produces the heat needed for the chemicals to start generating that life saving oxygen.

Gasses in Oxygen Candles

While it may sound a little long winded, those oxygen candle systems typically weigh less than the alternative of a compressed gas system, so it’s preferred for flight, where minimizing weight is essential!

Typically, passengers will have around 10 to 14 minutes’ worth of oxygen per mask which is usually plenty of time for the pilot to get the plane to below 10,000 feet, the altitude where it’s possible to breathe normally. Hopefully you’ll never be in a situation where you’ll need to trigger that kind of chemical reaction.

How To Tell The Age Of A Plane

There’s no denying that we’re most certainly living in the age of aircrafts, but have you ever stopped to consider the real age of the aircrafts you’re jetting off on? There’s a common belief among some flight passengers that an older airplane might mean the plane is less reliable, or even less safe.

But how do you even find out how old an airplane really is? And does age really matter? You probably didn’t know it, but while some of us humans spend a lot of time trying to conceal our ages, airplanes wear theirs for the world to see, if you know where to look.

Like cars, airplanes have their very own license plate number that’s used to identify them. Referred to as tail numbers in the aeronautical world, those often unnoticed codes hold a lot of information about a plane.

Airplane Tail Number Tail Number of a FedEx Boeing 727

The first letter of the tail number identifies a plane’s country of origin with American tail numbers typically starting with an N. Other countries use different prefixes: Canadian aircrafts use the letter C while British aircraft tail numbers start with the letter G.

The next three digits are chosen from a range set by the airline for a specific aircraft type and the final two letters are an abbreviation for the operator, for example: UA, for United Airlines. American Airlines, meanwhile, still flies some aircraft with the letters “AW”, as some of their planes formerly belonged to America West Airlines.

If you search an airplane's tail number on the global database, you'll find all sorts of information about the plane, including how many seats it has, how many engines it has, as well as when it was built.

Most passenger airplanes have an average flight career of around 27 years before they’re retired. However, there are some passenger planes that are still flying well into their middle ages, and you won’t believe how old some of them are. The Boeing 737-200 in Nolinor Aviation’s fleet has been in service since 1974, making it the oldest passenger plane still in service.

The Boeing 737-200 in Nolinor Aviation’s fleet

If you’re wondering why or how, Nolinor are able to have such an aged unit in their fleet, the reality is that older doesn’t necessarily mean worse or unsafe. That particular aircraft has been through multiple rounds of refurbishment and some of its features are actually considered superior to those found on newer planes.

For example, the Boeing 737-200 can actually handle more treacherous landing conditions compared to newer models due to needing to adapt to the poorer ground surfaces at older airports. In the airplane world, age really is just a number.

Black Box

If you’ve ever seen a movie or news story about a plane disappearing, you might have heard about a search for the mysterious black box. Every commercial and corporate aircraft is fitted with two separate systems collectively known as the black box: a flight data record and a cockpit voice recorder.

And neither of those things are typically literal black boxes! They actually function in much the same way as a computer hard drive or memory card, with the flight data recorder holding all relevant information about the activities of the plane and the cockpit voice recorder storing recordings of all sounds and conversations in the cockpit.

the black box, a flight data record and a cockpit voice recorder

Seeing as black box systems hold information that could be vital to finding out what happened in an aviation accident, those devices include special design features to ensure they have the best chance of being found.

A black box can remain intact after being hit with an impact speed of 310 miles per hour and survive exposure to flames as hot as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for more than an hour. The device can emit a signal once per second even while 20,000 feet under the sea for 30 whole days. Not only that but black boxes are normally installed in the tail section of an aircraft as that is usually the part that suffers the least damage in a crash.

Despite being named black boxes, those devices are painted a fluorescent orange shade to make them stand out easily on a crash site. While mentions of airplane black boxes in the real world are sadly often associated with accidents, there’s no doubt that unnoticed aviation feature offers us invaluable insight into how to make planes even safer in the future.

Yellow Hooks On Airplane Wings

Planes are equipped with an array of life saving equipment both in plain sight and beyond. While some features like seat belts and life vests are hard to miss, there are other crucial safety features that go completely unnoticed by the average flight passenger.

There are two small holes sitting about a third of the way down the wing on some airplanes, for example, could very well save your life in an emergency.

Airplane Wing Holes for Over-Wing Exits

Airplane wings are built to be as smooth and aerodynamic as possible and while that is necessary during flights, it can be a problem if a plane needs to make an emergency landing in water.

Some airplanes include over wing exits that passengers will need to use in an emergency evacuation, and as you might already have an idea that the wet smooth surfaces are a recipe for slip ups.

Planes fitted with over wing exits include those yellow escape rope brackets which are used to hook and secure an escape rope to act as a handhold for passengers making their way out over the wing.

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If you don’t see those hooks on your plane, don’t panic, they’re only necessary for planes with over wing exits. So, if you’ve ever questioned if aircraft engineers really have thought of everything, it’s safe to say that they’re off the hook with lifesaving features like that!

Airplane Horn

Here's a question that you’ve never wondered about the answer to: Do airplanes have horns? Yes, they have horns, rather similar to those found in cars, but which are used for a very different purpose.

Unlike car horns on a highway, airplane horns seem completely useless during flight for a couple of reasons. Namely, airplanes usually fly miles apart from one another, with roaring engines meaning that fellow pilots almost certainly wouldn’t hear a horn while flying. So, what are they for?

In fact, airplane horns aren’t really designed for pilots to use at all and are only ever used when a plane is on the ground. Engineers often make use of the horn when performing maintenance in a plane’s cockpit, tooting the horn to get the attention of workers on the ground.

Unlike in a car where the horn is impossible to miss in the center of the steering wheel, on a plane the horn is a button amid many other commands on the control panel. But the biggest question of all: what does an airplane horn sound like? Check the footage below:

View post on TikTok

While that horn is primarily a means of communication, modern planes are also able to emit varying sounding sirens to warn ground engineers when a particular system breaks down. But it'd be surprising if anyone of the engineers outside the plane ever stick around to find out what work needs to be done.

Hidden Handrails

If you’ve ever walked down an airplane aisle during a bit of unexpected turbulence, you’ll be all too familiar with what it feels like to be a human pinball. You’ve probably seen plenty of wobbly hands clamping down on aisle seats for support, or maybe you’ve even done it yourself. After all, there’s nothing else to hold onto or is there?

Turns out, there’s a little known feature on most airplanes that will save you from getting up close and personal with your fellow passenger’s headrest. While you might assume that the little curve underneath the overhead bins is just a little design quirk, its placement is very much deliberate.

Most modern airplane cabins include built in handrails located under the overhead bins to provide some grip for passengers navigating the aisles. This is exactly how flight attendants make strutting through the cabin look like a breeze!

View post on TikTok

Secretive Seats

One of the most important questions in passengers’ minds before boarding a flight is where they’re going to be sitting. Almost half of solo fliers prefer the coveted window seat, and it’s easy to understand why. Window passengers not only get a front row seat to epic views, but they also remain undisturbed by seated neighbors clambering to the restroom.

But there’s one factor that can affect the comfort level of that coveted seat that you’ve probably never noticed. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the cabin walls of long haul planes are a lot flatter compared to those on smaller, short haul planes which have more of a curved shape.

The difference in wall shape comes down to the differing heights of long and short haul fuselages, with some double decker long haul planes stretching more than twice the height of short haul single decks.

Long vs Short Haul Fuselages

While not a deliberate design choice for the benefit of passengers, the broader curvature of long haul airplane walls does inadvertently provide window seat dwellers with more head and shoulder room. Though whether it’s preferable to the aisle seat for the leg room requirements of taller passengers, is still up for debate.

Speaking of the aisle seat, it is the second most popular choice among passengers, especially those who frequently get up to use the restroom. But did you know, hidden on some planes is a secret button that can turn your aisle seat into a spacious sanctuary.

You’ll find the hidden button on the underside of the outermost armrest of aisle seats, and pressing it allows you to sneakily move the armrest, which usually seems locked in place.

View post on TikTok

A simple move with game changing results: no more armrest digging into your side and a little extra swing room for your legs. While the movable armrest provides that extra benefit if you know where to look, that design feature is actually meant as a safety measure to allow for easier escape in an emergency evacuation.

Unsurprisingly, the middle seat is the least popular choice for flight passengers by far. While just 10% of passengers opt to be the hamburger patty of the 3 chair combo, turns out some middle seats are harboring hidden features that actually offer passengers the most comfortable ride.

In response to the widespread middle seat hate, Spirit Airlines have been secretly adding a whole inch of width to the middle seats in their newer airplane cabins.

Wider Middle Seat in Spirit

Combating Jet Lag With Light Tricks

While traveling the globe is on most peoples’ bucket list, there’s no doubt that jetting off on a long haul flight isn’t the most comfortable, especially when it comes to the dreaded jet lag. Jet lag is a psychological condition triggered by moving through different time zones at an accelerated rate.

Under normal circumstances, our body’s internal clock, also known as our circadian rhythm, is influenced by daylight, which it uses to regulate when you should be awake and when you should sleep. When that day night cycle gets shifted, understandably our body has a few objections, mostly in the form of tiredness.

Many hours spent in an airplane cabin without proper access to natural light can make symptoms of jet lag even worse. But some more modern planes are subtly combatting jet lag symptoms and most passengers aren’t even aware of it. Airbus’ A350 model is hiding an ingenious system of customizable LED lights that can simulate different types of natural light.

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The system includes up to 16.7 million different colors that are programmed to mimic the lighting conditions of the time zone the plane is heading to. Subtly manipulating the lighting like that, can reportedly help trick your body’s internal clock into adapting more easily to new time zones. That helps to eliminate the irregular sleeping hours long haul travelers often experience when arriving in a new time zone.

Cargo Airplanes

We’ve already learned about a number of hidden features that airlines sneak onto planes for the comfort of passengers, but there are other planes out there with features built for totally different purposes.

While scenes aboard a typical passenger plane include smiling cabin crew and window shade wars, things look worlds apart inside cargo planes. Cargo planes play a big role in transporting the world’s goods and those days, even Amazon has its very own airline dedicated to shipping customer orders worldwide.

Widely used cargo aircrafts like the Boeing 777 have large side facing hatches that are used to funnel goods onto the aircraft. Planes like the Boeing 777 freight plane typically have a maximum capacity of around 27 10 foot high pallets.

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But some cargo planes out there have taken space maximization to a whole new level, with a very special feature you’ve probably never seen before. The Boeing 747 freighter is one of the rarer planes which can be fitted with a giant nose cargo door.

There are several advantages to that design, namely, that it allows loading of cargo of all different sizes. The open nose allows the 747 to load cargo pallets with a width of 12 feet and length of up to 185 feet, that’s the equivalent of the leaning tower of Pisa, without the need to disassemble them.

open nose Boeing 747 cargo plane

The Boeing 747 has seen all sorts going through its nose, from race cars to helicopters. But it’s not even the largest cargo plane out there. The Antonov 225 cargo plane holds a staggering 124 world records related to its mammoth size.

The gargantuan jet holds the title of heaviest aircraft ever built as well as the world record for transporting the longest piece of air cargo, two wind turbine blades through its giant nose door.

Sadly, the largest individual plane of that kind, the Antonov AN-225 Mriya was destroyed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but there are plans for the plane to be restored. The restoration is expected to cost $3 billion and five years to complete the project, and I for one can’t wait to see the Antonov nose and all, back in the sky as soon as possible.

Antonov An-225 Mriya

Why Plane Tires Don't Explode On Landing

All fliers are familiar with a bumpy touchdown every now and again. But have you ever stopped to consider exactly how an entire plane lands without blowing all its tires? If you think about it, the average 200 ton airplane hits tarmac at about 165 miles per hour when landing, so how is it possible the wheels stay perfectly intact landing after landing?

Unsurprisingly, airplane wheels are very different from the ones you’ll find on a bike or car. In fact, they’re specifically designed to withstand incredibly heavy loads for very short periods of time and have some special hidden features to help them do just that.

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During take off and landing, airplane tires are exposed to a whole lot of naturally occurring static electricity, which is created through the immense friction between the wheels and runway tarmac.

To combat that, airplane use tires made of specialized conductive rubber that’s able to safely absorb electrical charges. There are usually 3 or more layers of rubber, pressurized 6 times as much as car tires, providing additional strength.

You might be wondering why, unlike heavy load trucks, airplane wheels are rather small compared to their enormous overall size. When it comes to airplanes, every extra pound counts towards how easy it is to lift off. Not only are smaller tires lighter, but multiple smaller tires are able to distribute the planeload with a lot more stability compared to fewer, larger tires.

Airplane Tires

Most standard commercial aircrafts usually have around six in total, but the number of tires depends on the size and maximum load weight of a plane. The Antonov AN-225, required 32 wheels, 20 of which were steerable, to accommodate for the cargo plane’s colossal 640 ton weight.

Airplane tires are regularly inspected for damage, but a plane can go up to 400 landings before its tires are actually changed. Honestly, that’s more often than I’ve changed my car’s tires.

Detachable Cabin

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, those days, more than 95% of plane crashes are survivable, and it’s no surprise. Innovations in airplane design are popping up all over the place, making air travel one of the safest modes of transport.

In 2016, aviation engineer Vladimir Tatarenko took sky high safety to a whole new level when he unveiled a design for a passenger aircraft with a detachable cabin. While it might look pretty crazy on first glance, the proposed cabin is fitted with parachutes and inflatable rubber tubes so that it can float and land safely on the ground or water.

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It may sound like a reassuring idea for those who find flying more of a terrifying ordeal as opposed to an exciting way to start a vacation, but that detachable design is having trouble taking off.

While the proposal shows the detachable cabin deploying on a plane experiencing engine failure, these days, 80% of plane accidents are caused by human error. The most common accidents include loss of aircraft control and flying into terrain, circumstances where the deployment of a detachable cabin seems impossible to achieve safely.

Not only that but it’s estimated that a design like that would require more fuel usage and an increase in seat prices, so commercial airlines haven’t been too keen to launch the design into their fleets.

While the idea may not be quite ready for use in emergency situations, it might have some other uses that could revolutionize air travel. Much like ambulifts used by those requiring special assistance to board, detachable cabins could be incredibly useful for boarding and changeovers by enabling the transfer of cabins directly from plane to plane.

Aircraft Ambulifts for Special Assistance to Board

That technique would allow passengers to board away from the runway and eliminates the need for unloading and reloading passengers or their luggage in a changeover situation.

If you were amazed at these shocking airplane secrets, you might be interested in reading about flight secrets that are never told to passengers. Thanks for reading!

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