20 Things You Never Knew About Flying Commercial

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It doesn’t matter if being up in the air feels like a second home to you and you’re practically an honorary pilot at this point for how much you jet set — there’s a lot you probably never knew about your commercial flying experience.

1.  You’re probably flying with dead bodies.

Airlines need to make money however they can, and that includes taking on additional cargo like corpses and body parts. Ever wonder how donated kidneys make it from St. Louis to Dallas, or a body is flown from one city to another? Now you do.

2.  You should never, ever drink the coffee or tea.

Your commercial flight has only three possible ways of getting the water for that fresh brew: bottled (too expensive, you’ll need to fly private for that), bathroom tap (the same sink someone may have used to deal with air sickness after a bout of turbulence), or from a fresh tap water holding tank that’s positioned just a few inches from the human waste and trash tank on most commercial flights. You do the math, and consider a can of seltzer or bringing your own Starbucks on board.

3.  Cabin lights get dimmed for a reason.

It’s not mood lighting, people. It’s for the sake of your eyes adjusting more easily to the outside world in the event of a crash upon landing. Less soothing than thinking your pilot just wants to create a spa-like environment, right?

4.  Your floatation device may be missing.

While airplane designing minds decided long ago that storing floatation devices and vests under seat cushions would be a great way to maximize space and safety, they never accounted for the popularity of thieving passengers. It turns out those vests are one of the top stolen items on airplanes, and the crew hardly has time to notice. Make sure you check under your seat before taking off.

5.  Your cell phone won’t make the plane crash.

But the signal censors up front in the cockpit are pretty sensitive, so if your pilot is up front trying to get clearance for a takeoff and you plus 30 of your favorite seat mates can’t just enjoy airplane mode for a few minutes — you’re going to delay everyone. Don’t be that person.

6.  Nobody can tell you not to breastfeed.

If you’re up in the air and your baby is hungry or cranky, it’s your right to feed. If the passenger next to you complains or causes a stir, the cabin crew is usually obligated to relocate them, not you.

7.  Bad passengers are seated in the kiddie section.

If for some reason your seat changes last minute and you find yourself in the middle of a family of 14 young children, it’s likely because you did something to annoy the gate agent. Yes, they can punish you, so it's best not to be rude or demanding.

8.  Tipping is actually a custom.

The airlines don’t talk about it much because they’re all in an effort to make their planes seem cheaper than anyone else’s, but tipping has been a long understood custom of better-heeled travelers. If your flight attendant treated you well, don’t be a stranger to the $5 bill in the handshake technique at the end of your flight. Or, if you’re looking for the best possible treatment, try bringing a fully sealed box of chocolates from duty-free on board to give to the attendant helping you the most. If you’re on a long flight from JFK to Marrakesh, your effort will certainly be worth it when you ask for your 16th cup of water and a third pillow.

9.  Your frequent flier account has a secret section where gate agents and phone representatives leave remarks.

Yes, remarks about your personality and how you treated them. So be nice — you’ll never make it to platinum elite as a sourpuss.

10.  Even if you’re in first class, your pilot probably isn’t eating the same meal as you.

Not because he doesn’t love beef stroganoff at 35,000 feet above ground — but because most airlines don’t want to risk an entire plane full of passengers and their pilot getting food poisoning.

11.  You should always choose online check-in if it’s available to you.

This 24-hour window before your flight takes off is literally your best shot at upgrading your seat or changing for a more desirable one. If you miss this window, even your gate agent might have a problem switching you.

12.  Your pilot is humoring you.

When your pilot says “rough patch of air” or “turbulence” he or she usually means, “We’re flying through a horrible thunderstorm.” And yes, your plane is lightly being pelted with lightning. Don’t worry — that’s normal, but passengers tend to go nuts when they hear the truth so it’s usually not revealed.

13.  The smoothest ride is right over the wing.

If you’re planning to sleep, pick a seat there.

14.  There's not really a George onboard.

If you hear your pilot make a reference to that name, it's the nickname for autopilot and usually that means your real pilot wants to take a nap, visit the lav, or eat the Philly cheesesteak he smuggled onboard from his last stop.

15.  The crew needs to rush you to their seat so they can get paid.

Did you know that getting everyone seated isn’t just a takeoff priority — it’s that the majority of air crews don’t start getting paid until the cabin door closes. So move it along!

16.  Many flight attendants are taught self-defense as part of mandatory training.

Don’t mess with your meal service, because someone may come out with a roundhouse kick if you don’t act like a lady or gentleman.

17.  Flight attendants love those free sanitary pads from the bathrooms.

No, it’s not about that — it’s about sopping up spills and stains more efficiently than with the lower quality paper towels they’re actually given. If your bathroom is emptied of pads, it’s probably because someone spilled their cocktail.

18.  Don’t always believe the seat hype.

While the exit rows definitely offer more leg room, they typically lack the ability to recline. If you’re the type who likes to nap, cross this row off your list. They also don’t offer underseat storage, a full-size tray table, or a magazine pocket.

19.  Coach blankets aren’t washed frequently — but first class may be.

If you're offered a fleece blanket on board, just know that many people before you have been offered the same exact one. The rule is “cheap blankets get cheap treatment,” according to a gate agent for British Airways. If you’re flying in first class, the blankets are often made with plusher materials and treated to a daily cleaning. Even daily washing might not do you much good in the germs department though. Consider bringing your own wrap or scarf.

20.  There’s a reason your flush is so loud.

When you do your business at home, your toilet relies on water pressure and gravity to force fluids and other things down the plumbing. When you’re in the air, changed pressure and turbulence make this near impossible, so a forceful vacuum is required to get your you-know-what from point A to point Bye.

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