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Urban Legends about Air Travel…Fact or Fiction

by Hauwa Datti-GarbaSeptember 6, 2014

I came across an article by the New York Post on some urban legends about flying not so a few days ago and I decided to share some of them along with my commentary (in italics). I thought some were funny, and others cringe worthy. Here are the ones I picked to share:


You can get stuck in a plane toilet while sitting down: Fact

“This is true,” says Ro Cohen, who served as a flight attendant for United for almost 47 years. “A few years back a woman was sitting on the toilet when she flushed and her tush got sealed to the seat. She had to land in the bathroom!”

Word to the wise: Stand, shut the cover, then flush.

Now, this is funny. Seriously. And a little sad. I imagine everyone on the flight knew someone was stuck and all hung around for the (in)famous rescue. How was it done? Did they…


…forget it. I’m sorry.

You should never drink the water on a plane: Fact

According to one flight attendant, who didn’t want to be named, you shouldn’t drink the water, let alone touch it. Why? The ports where fecal matter is flushed sits adjacent to the ports where the “drinkable” water is refilled — and they are often serviced at the same time.

In 2002, the Wall Street Journal conducted a test of tap water from 14 different flights. It found bacteria was sometimes “hundreds of times above the U.S. government limits.”

First of all, people actually drink that water? When all you have to do is ask one of the cabin crew for water? But then again, one sometimes brushes ones dental cavity before landing, especially after long flights L. Secondly, ewwwww! This is gross and totally wrong. So many dangers to flying; crash, disappear, get bombed, and fall sick from fecal bacteria. Dear Lord!


The air on the plane is filled with germs and engine fuel: Fact

Let’s just start by saying that the air you breathe on a plane comes from the engine’s compressors. According to Boeing’s website, the compressors help to warm and pressurize air from the outside of the plane, then circulate it inside the cabin.

That makes up about 25-50 percent of what you breathe. The rest comes from passengers. So, if someone has a cold, those germs ARE circulating. To avoid getting sick, shut off the air that blows directly down on you.

Now I feel totally okay with my weirdness about not wanting air blown directly on me from any AC vent in a public space. The stupid air machines they have in Park and Shop in Abuja are particularly gross. I always shut off any air vents directly above me on the plane and ask anyone sitting near me if I can shut theirs off too.

The tray tables are Petri dishes of germs: Fact

The tray tables are rarely washed or sanitized. “I never saw them cleaned,” says one flight attendant who talked to us off the record.

“I’ve seen people who would go to the bathroom barefoot, then put their feet up on the tray tables. I’ve even seen people put soiled baby diapers on them — and then someone eats off of it on the next flight. I wouldn’t eat off one of them — that’s for sure.”

I usually use antibacterial wipes to wipe trays, chair handles and seat buckles before I fly. And my hands before touching any food. Now, I feel its not even enough. Why would anyone put their feet on the trays? Oh, a pet peeve, those who wear socks only into plane toilets…..WHY???? So the germs have an even better hold on you and everything around you.


The blankets are not washed – just refolded: Fiction

There’s good news — and bad news. The good news? “Most U.S. airlines don’t have blankets in econ but only in first class, and they are cleaned,” says Hobica. Contrary to popular belief, blankets are washed after each flight then resealed in fresh plastic bags.

Hayyyy! Thank God for small (and large mercies). Something done right and clean!


Pilots fall asleep while flying: Fact

On long, international flights, pilots are actually required to take rest periods. During this time, the co-pilot flies the plane. That is, of course, the ideal situation.

But according to a 2012 survey from the European Cockpit Association, four in 10 pilots admit they have fallen asleep “involuntarily” during flights. And in a third of those cases, they have awoken to find the co-pilot asleep as well.

That was the case earlier this month, when a Brussels-bound Jet Airways plane dropped 5,000 feet when both pilots dozed off mid-flight.

This totally killed the good feeling I had from the clean blankets fact. Now I will keep wondering if the pilot AND co-pilot are awake or sleeping.


Oxygen masks only give you about 15 minutes of air: Fact


In emergency situations, you have only 10-15 seconds before all the oxygen is sucked out of the cabin and your lungs. After 40 seconds you pass out. So, in theory, 15 minutes is a long time. Plus, that’s generally more than enough time for a pilot to bring the plane down to an altitude where you can breath normally.

And for those wondering: oxygen masks don’t get you high. You need to go to the dentist for that. But one flight attendant did reveal, “We (pilots and flight attendants) would use the oxygen to help if we were hung over.”


I have never wondered if the oxygen masks had an “air frame”. And only 10-15 seconds before all oxygen is sucked out? This whole flying thing is getting scarier. That old adage about what you don’t know won’t kill you might be true because some peoples fear and worries might very well be the end of them (not saying me of course). I’m now totally ticked off by the hostess smiling in this picture.

Let me leave it here. For those of you who are serious suckers for punishment, read the rest of it here

I have a flight to survive in a few days.

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Hauwa Datti-Garba
Travel and Food enthusiast, Interior Designer, book devourer, night lover, ex migraine bearer, some say a gadget addict, forgetful Jane.
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