5 Crazy Things Not Even Pilots Will Not Tell You About Airplane 'Safety'

There's quite a few things pilots won't tell you about airplane safety. Things that you'd actually want to know. Things that could save your life. Things that could mean the difference between staying alive... and dying. So, here now: five crazy ass things pilots will not tell you about airplane "safety."
03/31/2014 10:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This vs That hosts, Brad Sherwood, Chris Tallman and Mark DeCarlo. Click here to see our series premiere, free.

What is the funniest thing ever uttered on an airplane? For my money it's this... Pilot (over PA): "Would the passenger in row 14 aisle seat please stop fiddling with your nut bag." Okay. I clearly made that up. However, there's quite a few things pilots won't tell you about airplane safety. Things that you'd actually want to know. Things that could save your life. Things that could mean the difference between staying alive... and dying. So, here now: five crazy ass things pilots will not tell you about airplane "safety."

1. That dizzy, queasy feeling you're experiencing? It's Not Salmonella From the Salmon

As you know, during the safety briefing, you are told that in the event that oxygen masks are needed during the flight, you should put yours on first... and then help others. Here's why. In the event of sudden cabin depressurization, all the oxygen is sucked from the plane... and your lungs. In about 30 seconds or so -- with little to no air in the plane -- you will begin to feel dizzy and lightheaded and probably won't be coherent enough to tend to your own safety. That's why you put your own oxygen mask on first. Oh, and one more thing: The mechanical system that provides oxygen to the masks has enough oxygen for only about 15 minutes or so. It's during that time that the pilot will be attempting to maneuver the plane to about 12,000 feet or so -- where passengers will be able to breath the air that is pumped in from outside. And what if the pilot can't get to 12,000 feet after 15 minutes? Everyone on board will pass out. And well, you know what happens next.

2.You Don't Have to Know How to Swim to Be an Airline Passenger. But, It Could Help. Alot!

On domestic U.S. flights -- meaning, flights not over water -- the airlines are not required to provide either life vests or seat cushion flotation devices. Now, at first glance, perhaps that makes some sense. Maybe. Now consider the following:

  • According to FAA regulations, a domestic flight can fly as much as 50 miles off the U.S. coast over the ocean... and still be considered a domestic flight.
  • There are more than 25 major U.S. airports either on the coast... or within a few miles.
  • Oh, and remember US Air Flight 1549? The one piloted by Capt. Sullenberger that ditched in the Hudson River? That flight originated in New York and was headed to Charlotte, NC. It's intended flight path would have put it the designated 50 miles off the US coast. However, that plane was not required to have flotation devices. And yet it did. Why? Scheduling. Because in some instances the airlines equip primarily domestic planes with flotation devices if they may suddenly be called into duty to fly a non-domestic route. For example, that plane could have also flown to Bermuda or Puerto Rico. All that being said, of the more than 100 people on flight 1549, only nine people actually exited the plane with one or the other flotation devices.

    Here, part 1 of This vs That's experiment: Life Vest vs Seat Cushion

    3. The Rules Aren't Just Made to Be Broken. They're Made to Be Drowned.

    FAA regulations require flights traveling more than 50 miles off the U.S. coast to provide enough life rafts to accommodate all the passengers on board. That is, unless the FAA gives your airline / flight a waiver. And this is happening more and more often. You see, the airlines complain that the rafts weigh too much... which makes the plane heavier... so they are forced to spend more money of jet fuel. Which is expensive. So, they make less money. The FAA is also considering allowing some planes to fly with just one wing, because of constant airline pressure. "We have one wing. Isn't that enough?" said one airline spokesman. I might be wrong about that last thing. Maybe.

    4. In the Event of a Water Landing, Don't Act Like a Human Would Act.

    During the safety briefing given before your flight takes off, the flight attendant demonstrates the proper way to put on your life vest. Slip it over your head. Buckles in the front. Tie the straps around your waist. Pull the red tabs. Blow into the red tubes. Sounds simple enough, right? Only now try and remember all of that as your plane is careening into the ocean... or right after it "ditches" in the Hudson. It turns out, if you put your life vest on backwards -- assuming you survive the crash in water -- rather than automatically keeping your head out of the water, the life vest will actually force your face into the water. Think this wouldn't happen to you? On our series, This vs That, we tested the reactions of a dozen people in a very loosely simulated crash scenario... Even though they knew it was a simulation... after all, we did the test on the edge of a large hotel pool -- more than 50 percent of the people in our test put their life vests on improperly. You can see the demonstration and the test in Episode #2 of our series, here.

    Oh, one other thing. While the flight crew is supposed to check under each seat to make sure life vests are, in fact, there, sometimes they won't be. Why? Idiotic passengers think of them as souvenirs. Many planes fly several flights a day... and the airline doesn't typically check for the vests between flights, but rather, at the end of the day.

    5.Stop Thinking About Protecting Your Family Jewels in a Crash. There's Another Part of Your Body That Really Needs Protection.

    The airlines don't seem to have a common "brace position" passengers are encouraged to get into in the event of an impending crash. On one airline, passengers are encouraged to duck their head into their chest, and put their hands on top of the seat in front of them. On another, passengers are encouraged to tuck their head into their chest... and put their hands over their head. But, rather than interlocking your fingers, passengers are specifically encouraged to put one hand on top of the other. Why? Well... imagine a crash scenario where something or someone falls on you or your head. With your fingers interlocked, it's more likely that you'll damage BOTH of your hands. When you use one hand to cover the other, the lower hand is more protected. And what can you do with that protected hand? Oh, just unbuckle your seat belt.


    Jon Hotchkiss is the creator of the new science TV series, This vs That and I'd like to invite you to see our one-hour series premiere, FREE. What's the fastest way to load 100 passengers onto a 757? We'll use science to show you.