Things You Should Never Do On An Airplane
Let's find out what you should never do on a plane!Life Hacks
On May 5th, 2019, Aeroflot Flight 1492 was scheduled to fly from Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow to Murmansk Airport, in Russia. With 73 passengers and 5 crew on board, the pilots completed their pre-flight checks and lined up on the runway.
At 18:03 they took off and began their climb. It was a little bumpy, but they’d handled worse. 5 minutes later, however, a deafening boom rocked the entire plane. All of a sudden the plane jolted, the primary radio went dead, and the autopilot became inoperative.
But the pilots knew this was a minor electrical failure, nothing major. What they didn’t know though, was that in less than 30 minutes, the life of every passenger on board would be on the line. Not just because of what the pilots were about to do but because of the dangerous decisions the passengers themselves made next.
Never Take Your Luggage From a Plane Crash
That fateful day, as they were lining up on the runway, Flight 1492 had found themselves facing towering cumulonimbus clouds, better known as thunderstorm clouds. While passenger planes are designed to handle stormy conditions, pilots can request storm avoidance clearance, a kind of navigational assistance given by air traffic controllers, to help them avoid the worst of turbulence and any electrical disturbances from lightning.
But Flight 1492 didn’t request this, and instead took off with the intention to turn away from the storm once they were in the air. As they climbed to 8,900 ft, lightning struck the plane. The right-hand angle of the attack sensor, right-hand ice detector, temperature probe, and upper sections of the fuselage were all damaged. The radio and autopilot also cut out entirely.
The almighty crack of lightning rocked the plane and had passengers clinging to their seats in terror. But, luckily, they were still airborne. Without a moment to lose, the captain activated their secondary radio, restored communications with the air traffic controllers at Sheremetyevo, and flying manually began their return to the airport.
Turning back, the plane overshot its initial approach, so it had to turn around in a circle to begin its approach again. As it descended to runway 24L, the pilots checked that they had all the right settings in place. It was looking good. But suddenly as they hit 1000 ft, an alarm began blaring: Go around, windshear ahead!
Windshear is a sudden change in the approaching wind’s velocity or direction, with strong wind shear making airplane landings difficult or even impossible. The alarm went off in Flight 1492’s cockpit 5 times but, for reasons unknown, the crew never acknowledged it and they continued their descent.
When the plane hit 180 ft, another alarm sounded: glide slope. This alarm, which is part of the terrain avoidance warning system, indicated an excessive downward deviation from their instrument landing system. In other words, the nose of the plane was angled too far down.
To land even in strong cross-wind conditions like this, a plane aims to get its back landing gears down on the ground first and then lowers the nose landing gears to prevent the plane from bouncing. The captain tried to raise the nose up by increasing the plane's airspeed to 170 knots, 15 knots above the recommended threshold. But the nose wouldn’t pitch up in time.
At 18:30, the plane landed heavily on all three of its landing gears, 3000 ft beyond the runway threshold at a speed of 158 knots, about 181 miles per hour. The aircraft bounced to a height of 6 ft, and then two seconds later, when an attempt to engage the reverse thrusters failed, the aircraft touched down again and bounced to a height of 18 ft!
Passengers still had their seatbelts on, but they were being thrown around like ragdolls. Panicked, the captain hit the thrusters, attempting to take off to salvage the situation but it was too late. The aircraft hit the runway for a third and final time at 140 knots, roughly 161 miles per hour.
It was this huge, final bump that collapsed the plane’s landing gear, rupturing the wing and the fuel tanks within them. The leaking fuel quickly set fire to the back half of the plane, and it slid down the runway with a thick plume of smoke and fire trailing behind it. Eventually, it came to rest between two taxiways, engulfed in flames.
The fire was spreading so fast, the passengers and crew had no time to act. Thick black smoke was filling the cabin at an alarming rate, and the cabin crew initiated evacuation as soon as they could, 3 seconds before the official evacuation order was given. They instructed everyone to leave their bags and evacuate immediately.
One crew member kicked open the forward right exit door and triggered the inflatable escape slide just 8 seconds after the aircraft came to a halt. The first passenger slid out of it after just 17 seconds. A steady stream of passengers evacuated the burning craft, with the first officer clambering out of the cockpit window via a rope.
After 70 seconds, the final passenger to make it slid down. But as they were all running to safety, it became clear that passengers hadn’t just saved themselves but many of them were carrying their hand luggage. Entire wheely suitcases were seen sliding down with them!
Unbelievably, as people were crawling along the aisles to avoid the smoke from the back end of the plane, trying desperately to save themselves, some passengers had found the time to block the aisles and get their belongings from the overhead compartments before exiting the flaming craft.
It undoubtedly cost those passengers and crew further back the precious seconds they needed to escape, which made it all the more terrible when it was revealed that only 37 of the 78 passengers made it out.
Experts claimed that passengers and crew in the rear of the plane stood a very limited chance of survival once the fire had taken hold. And yet, that chance might have increased had these passengers thought about anything other than their possessions! As utterly outrageous as this incident is, it isn’t an isolated one. It happens all the time!
Back in 2015, British Airways flight 2276 suffered catastrophic engine failure and caught fire on a runway in Las Vegas. While it forced the terrifying evacuation of all 157 passengers and 13 crew, astonishingly, almost every person on the tarmac was seen carrying luggage, including wheelie bags. What if those bags had punctured the inflatable slide, or tripped their owners in the aisle?
Viewing the scenes online, flight attendants around the world branded the passengers’ actions as selfish and pathetic. But, for a moment, let’s give these people the benefit of the doubt. What if they hadn’t heard the instruction to leave their bags? That might be hard to believe if the incident aboard United Airlines flight 1658 is anything to go by.
When the plane landed in Denver, Colorado, reports of smoke and fire under the plane triggered an evacuation. Despite the loud, repeated warnings for people to leave their bags and get out, numerous people can be spotted grabbing their belongings, with several overhead bins in shot clearly open. These people had no idea how severe the fire was, and yet still prioritized their possessions over their own safety.
Luckily, it was a small fire, and all 157 passengers evacuated without issue. But what about on a crash landing? If you believe Flight 1492 was an anomaly people don’t really prioritize grabbing their bags when they know they’re in imminent danger, passengers aboard Emirates Flight 521 proved otherwise.
Similar to Aeroflot flight 1492, back on August 3rd, 2016, Flight 521 was landing in Dubai, UAE carrying 282 passengers and 18 crew. Sudden and significant wind shear caused major complications which saw the plane bounce, collide, and skid along the runway.
Despite being told to evacuate, this is what the passengers were blocking the aisle and scrambling for the overhead bins, instead of getting themselves, their children, and their families out of there. By some miracle, despite this selfish behavior, everyone made it out with only a few minor injuries reported.
Not a moment too soon, just 9 minutes after the aircraft came to a full stop, while only the pilot and co-pilot were on board checking all passengers had made it out, flames reached the aircraft's center fuel tank and the plane exploded. Both the pilot and co-pilot survived, though they almost didn’t.
With that said, in the event of a plane crash, passengers should never prioritize their bags over their lives. You never know how fast a fire might be traveling, if there’s even a fire on board, or if an explosion is imminent!
So, if ever you find yourself in that situation, remember that your carry-on luggage can always be replaced, but your life and the lives of people behind you aren’t so easy to restore. Currently, there are no laws against taking your bag in an emergency. But maybe if there were, people would be less likely to do this.
Don’t Kick Out The Windows Mid Flight
You’d assume that if someone has enough brain cells to purchase a plane ticket, they’d know not to try and damage the plane they’re traveling on. And yet, back on September 14th, 2022, cabin crew on board Pakistan International Airlines Flight 283 had to restrain a man for attempting to kick out the windows of the aircraft, while it was in the air!
The same passenger had caused several disturbances by lying down in the aisle to pray, begging the cabin crew to let him off the plane while they were 36,000 ft in the air, before being asked and then forced to return to his seat. While that was more an annoyance to the cabin crew than a major issue, the window kicking was just downright dangerous!
Airplane windows are specially designed to deal with the pressure difference between the outside and inside of the plane where upwards of 10,000 ft in the air is much thinner. As standard, modern cabin windows contain two panels, the inner of which is made of stretched acrylic which is about 0.375 inches thick.
These panes can withstand roughly 4,900 lbs of pressure, and with the average human kick clocking in at about 1000 lbs, there’s little chance that a single kick will blow one out. However, repeated kicks, theoretically could and that’s where problems start. Because of that aforementioned pressure difference, if a window was broken, air from inside the aircraft would rush out at incredible speed as the pressure outside and inside equalizes.
Anyone too close to that window could be sucked out by the incredibly strong rush of air! This would also trigger oxygen masks to drop from the ceilings, allowing passengers to keep breathing in the new thin-air environment!
Naturally, trying to kick a window out mid-flight will be a dumb decision. Luckily, once the plane landed, this pesky passenger was handed over to security forces, before being deported and banned from ever flying with the airline again.
Don’t Ignore The Safety Instructions
At the start of any passenger flight, everyone will be given the same old safety brief by flight attendants who have performed the same instructions a thousand times over. Yes, it can be dull and the attendants are probably more sick of it than you are, but it’s important to pay attention!
If not, you could make a mistake that literally costs people their lives, but if you’re lucky, you’ll just end up being ridiculed on social media, as passengers on board Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 discovered.
On April 17th, 2018, the flight which was en route from New York To Dallas, experienced a left engine failure. Parts of the engine cowling broke off and shattered one of the windows, resulting in explosive decompression.
Oxygen was immediately sucked out of the plane, partially and fatally, sucking one passenger out of the window, while making it hard for all others to breathe and putting them at risk of hypoxia. Oxygen masks dropped down from the ceiling to counteract this.
However, having apparently not paid attention, pictures from the inside of the craft showed passengers wearing their masks like this:
It literally says on the bag to put the mask over your mouth and nose because it’s designed to create a seal around your face. Breathing through your nose helps you remain calm, but if you’re taking deep breaths of air that isn’t there, you might as well not be wearing the mask!
While passengers were dragged on social media and the news, they made it down without losing another passenger. Others sympathized, saying the masks looked like they might be uncomfortable. While it might be uncomfortable, it's certainly better than dying from hypoxia.
Don’t Inflate Your Life Jacket
Here's a survival question. Imagine you’re on a plane that’s had to make an emergency landing on the water. You’ve got your life jacket on, you’re getting up out of your seat, and suddenly you notice water rushing into the plane. When do you inflate your life jacket?
A: That very second. B: When the water is at waist height. C: When you’re out of the aircraft.
The frequent flyers among you might know the answer, but those afraid of getting their hair wet probably said A or B. The answer is always C. If you inflate your jacket before the plane has landed or while you’re still in your seat, if the plane does go underwater, your vest will float with the water filling the plane, making it even harder to get out!
This exact scenario happened back in 1996 when Ethiopian Airlines flight 961 was hijacked. It crashed into the water, but many passengers prematurely inflated their jackets inside the cabin.
Because of this, many were trapped on the sinking plane. And of the 163 passengers, just 44 survived. So, in order to escape, even if the water is at waist height and it’s threatening to ruin your hair, you need to wait to inflate!
Don’t Bring a Fake Service Animal
On July 22nd, 2019, passengers and one emotional support dog boarded American Airlines Flight 3306. As one of the flight attendants reached across the seats to provide a passenger with their sick bag, the supposed support dog lunged forward. It bit the flight attendant on the hand, who later required five stitches.
Less than two years before, a similar scene had unfolded on Delta Flight 1430. Only this time, during take-off, the agitated emotional support dog was sitting between its owner and another passenger, when suddenly entirely unprovoked, it bit the stranger in the face repeatedly! How did this happen not once, but twice?
In the late 2010s, emotional support animals were a pretty common sight on flights all over the world, especially in the US. They’re a rarer sight today, but passengers can travel with these animals on the plane, don’t have to pay the usual fee of up to $1000 to stow them in the cargo hold, and used to have almost no limits on what sort of animal they could bring!
The one rule they did enforce was that passengers had to provide a letter from their mental health professional to prove their emotional support animal was the real deal. And to that end, airline rules stated that these animals are expected to respond to the direction of the owner.
The only issue is that these letters are very easy to get hold of, with online forms that can be filled out in minutes, almost anyone can claim their pet this an emotional support animal, and not pay the fee for them to fly.
But planes are stressful environments for even the calmest animals, especially those that haven’t been specially trained to cope in stressful situations! And so, there was a huge influx of fake emotional support animals misbehaving on flights, some with dire consequences.
Airlines have since become more stringent with their emotional support animal policies, limiting the types of animals that can fly, and refusing requests at their discretion. So, while it may be tempting to try and bring Fido on a family trip for free, don’t do it! Unless you want to risk him chowing down on another passenger's face.
Don’t Open The Cockpit Door
On February 13th, 2022, American Airlines Flight 1775 was heading from Los Angeles to Washington DC, when suddenly the plane felt like it was in free fall. Passengers panicked as the plane made a terrifyingly rapid descent, and later landed at Kansas City Airport.
Law enforcement was called to the plane, and when they got there, the scene that greeted them was something else. Several passengers and cabin crew were holding a single passenger against the ground, restraining him with anything they could, including a coffee pot!
According to eyewitness reports and pilot transcripts, the passenger had started acting paranoid and was distraught, before attempting to enter the cockpit. While in flight, cockpit doors are generally kept locked with a minimum of two pilots inside to prevent hijacking attempts. By actively trying to open the door, you can be charged with interfering with a flight crew, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years!
Don’t Use Non-Standard Phrases
It’s not just passengers that put other travelers' lives in danger. Captains, pilots, and even air traffic controllers have their fair share of the blame to shoulder, though none are perhaps as harrowing as what’s become simply known as the Tenerife Airport Disaster.
Back on March 27th, 1977, KLM flight 4805 was lining up on the runway to take off. A bomb threat at Gran Canaria airport had diverted a lot of traffic to the much smaller Los Rodeos Airport, which wasn’t well equipped to deal with such a huge influx of traffic.
To make matters worse, a thick fog had blanketed the area, reducing visibility to around 330 ft. Flight 4805, a Boeing 747 passenger plane, hit the throttles and began take-off procedures before the co-pilot noted that they hadn’t been given clearance to take off and radioed the air traffic controller.
They said “We are now at take off, we’re going”, a non-standard statement, to which the controller responded “OK”, another non-standard statement. OK on its own is very ambiguous and didn’t specifically confirm the controller had understood what the co-pilot meant.
Because what the controller interpreted from that was that the plane was in take-off position, not already rolling down the runway! He then added “Standby for take off, I will call you” showing he had not, in fact, given take-off clearance.
This was a huge problem, because on the same runway Flight 4805 was now hurtling down in very low visibility, Pan Am Flight 1736, another Boeing 747 which had just landed, was still on the runway. Thanks to the fog, the planes could not see one another, neither aircraft could be seen from the tower, and the airport was not equipped with a ground radar in effect, nobody had any idea what was about to happen until it was too late.
By the time 4805 clocked the 1736 still on the runway, they were moving at a breakneck 160 miles per hour, too fast to stop! They desperately tried to rotate the aircraft and take off to clear the plane. When it left the ground, its nose landing gear cleared the plane, but the left engines, lower fuselage, and main landing gear struck the upper right side of 1736, ripping it apart.
Shredded materials were sucked into 4805’s left engine, and while they were very briefly airborne, the plane stalled, rolled, and hit the ground. Its right engines crashed through 1736’s upper deck, just behind the cockpit.
Both planes were destroyed, and of the combined 644 occupants in both planes, just 61 survived, less than 10%. The tragedy led to major reforms in the use of standardized phraseology in radio communications, with words like take off now only spoken when actual take-off clearance is given or canceled.
Don’t Let Kids Fly the Plane
In the 90s it was pretty common for kids to be invited by the captain to visit the cockpit, sometimes even during take-offs and landings. It’s rarer now, thanks to the events of 9/11 and the resulting additional security measures.
But there was also one other flight that made captains second guess having a kid in the cockpit ever again, the Aeroflot 593. On the 23rd March 1994, an Airbus flight from Moscow to Hong Kong, carrying 63 passengers and 12 crew, took off without any issues.
Alongside the pilot and co-pilot, a third relief pilot was also in the cockpit, ready to take over should one of the other pilots need a break on the long journey. And with him, his kids, who were traveling on their very first international flight: a 12-year-old daughter, and a 16-year-old son.
They were all in the cockpit when with the plane’s autopilot turned on, but still against regulations, the relief pilot let his kids sit at the controls. His daughter took the pilot’s front left seat, and he adjusted the autopilot heading so that when she used the control column it responded, and she thought she was actually flying the plane.
The son then took up the pilot’s chair, but he placed so much force on the control column that it contradicted the autopilot for 30 seconds! This triggered the flight computer to switch the plane's ailerons, aka the flaps you see on each wing to manual control. This kid now really was flying the plane. A silent indicator light lit up to alert the pilots to this disengagement.
However, all the pilots on board, who weren’t familiar with this model of aircraft, had previously flown in soviet designed planes that had an audible warning for a partial disengagement. And so, horrifically, they failed to notice it. It wasn’t until the son mentioned the craft was banking right that the pilots realized something was wrong.
Assuming the autopilot was still engaged, they all balked for 9 seconds as the plane banked further from 45 degrees to 90 degrees steeper than the design allowed. The plane quickly began to descend. The autopilot, without the use of the flaps, tried to pitch the plane’s nose up, which caused the craft to stall and put the plane into a nosedive.
Battling some significant G force, the pilots scrambled for control of the craft, and only when the autopilot disengaged completely did they notice the issue. At this point, the pilot was finally able to retake his seat from the boy, and he pulled the plane out of the dive.
Except, he overcorrected, which put the plane in an almost vertical ascent, which again stalled the plane and caused it to enter a spin! Eventually, the pilots leveled out the wings and gained control but it was too late. They’d lost too much altitude and hit the ground at an estimated 140 knots and 160 miles per hour.
There were no survivors. This should never have happened, and regulations detailing that only licensed pilots can be at the control columns during a flight should have been followed. Luckily, since then, measures have been reinstated to all pilots across multiple airlines to ensure this insane level of oversight never happens again!
I hope you were amazed at these things you should never do on an airplane. Thanks for reading.