7 Common Myths About Air Travel Debunked

Despite its regularity in modern society, droves of people all over the world still fear traveling by air. Many try to avoid it entirely.

Part of the reason why so many of us are averse to taking to the skies is that throughout the last half-decade or so, many different myths, misconceptions, and rumors about the perils of air travel have been spread.

Surprisingly, even though most of these have been proven to be patently false long ago, many still believe in their foreboding messages, treating them as guiding mantras instead of the superstitious folklore they really are.

In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at seven of the most common myths about air travel, shedding light on the raw truth behind each of them. Before jumping straight in, however, let’s briefly explore how so many misconceptions have managed to crop up over the years in the first place.

Where Do All These Myths Come From?

On some level, it’s difficult to explain how and why some of the myths below have continued to be perpetuated by thousands, despite the rise of Google as an all-informative research tool. For many, it boils down to feeling as though you are giving up control over your autonomy when stepping onto a plane. Indeed, locked in a pressurized cabin at 30,000 feet in the air doesn’t exactly scream “relaxing” to most of us.

There’s also the general feeling of being “out of the loop” while in the air. Sure, the pilot may chime in every now and again with a reassuring voice, but why did those two flight attendants hurry by the isle a few minutes ago with worried looks on their faces?

Whether it is this irrational fear of losing personal control, or some other reason even more peculiar, let’s take a look at seven of the most persistent (and unfounded) myths about air travel that need to be laid to rest.

1. Air Travel Is Worse for the Environment Than Cars

There’s no question that airplanes eat up ridiculous amounts of gas each and every year, but this extremely common belief just doesn’t pan out to be true in all situations. For instance, a Boeing 747 goes through about a gallon of fuel for every second, meaning that on a 10-hour flight, it uses roughly 36,000 gallons. On the surface, this certainly seems like a massive waste of fuel.

The trouble is, many fail to consider just how many people can be packed onto an airplane, and how that factors into their emissions (and overall environmental impact). That same 747 aircraft can hold a whopping 364 passengers, bringing its actual efficiency to 89 mpg, a far cry from the efficiency of most of the vehicles on the road today.

That isn’t to say that aircraft are harmless to the environment, however, and new endeavors are already underway to increase their efficiency using biofuels and other innovative energy forms.

2. Alcohol Hits Harder in the Air

This is a particularly interesting myth in that while it is categorically incorrect, it can still certainly seem as though you are getting more than you bargained for when drinking & flying. As covered by Discovery’s “Mythbusters,” your blood alcohol level will not be different up in the air than it would be on the ground on a per-drink basis, so there’s no need to panic. 

However, because the cabin inside a plane is not pressurized to sea level, you are looking at the equivalent of breathing at about 8,000 feet up. This means less oxygen in total to breathe, which can absolutely make you feel as though your drink has a bit of an added punch. Ultimately, considering the price of alcoholic beverages on most flights, this might end up being a good thing.

3. Storms Are Dangerous for Planes

As most nervous flyers would likely agree, bad weather simply does not help to put your mind at ease when things start getting interesting at thousands of feet above the Earth. However, when the high winds–and lightning–set in, does it really spell potential doom for you and your fellow passengers? Thankfully, the answer is no.

The last plane to be downed by lightning happened decades ago, and since then, advancements in electronics have made the aerial vehicles all but impervious to even direct strikes. This means that you won’t have to worry next time you look out the window and see grey skies; in the end, your pilot has trained for this, and the plane is literally built for it.

Of course, it makes sense to avoid storms when possible, because as anyone who’s flown in one can tell you, it can still make things a bit uncomfortable. But what about all that turbulence? This is another one habitual worriers can cross off the list of “dangerous things to avoid,” as the rocking sensation is known to pilots and crew alike as being completely normal, if not a bit annoying.

4. Flying Is Safer in the Summer

Piggybacking off the last myth, many believe that the summer is a safer time to travel, with less inclement weather to worry about both while up in the air and on the ground (where it could cause delays and other scheduling issues).

In general, however, most pilots seem to think that the seasons don’t appreciably affect their role in keeping you safe in the air. Some even say that the summertime is when you’ll experience more things like turbulence, due to high-pressure storms that build up vertically in the warmer air. Either way, this isn’t something you need to factor into your plans.

5. The Cabin Door Can Be Opened and Will Suck Everyone Out of The Plane

This is a myth that can easily be traced back to Hollywood’s hyperactive imagination; we’ve all seen movies where some villainous individual slams open the plane door at 30,000 feet, complete with an almost instantaneous explosive decompression resulting in many of the passengers being sucked right out of the plane to their deaths. Gruesome, yes. Realistic? Not so much.

While yes, if you somehow managed to get the door open in an airborne plane, the results would not be particularly pleasant for anyone on board, there’s just one simple problem; you’d have to be superman to do it.

That’s right, it turns out that the cabin is pressurized, as we already covered above, and this pressurization means that it’s simply impossible for any human­–regardless of physical strength­–to wrench that door open. Debunked!

6. Cell Phones Can Cause Plane Disasters

This is a myth that has persisted for so long seemingly because of the ever-present reminder to “turn off or put all mobile electronics in airplane mode” just prior to takeoff and landing. After all, why would they tell us to do something unless it could present a clear and present danger to the flight’s overall safety?

In another win for the “Mythbusters” team, it was found that airliners are built to operate on entirely different frequencies than your smartphone, so there’s no need to worry about your habitual texting causing a catastrophe (phew). Why all the commotion about using your phone, then?

Essentially, when flying, your phone will attempt to bounce off of multiple cell towers at once, instead of just one at a time like on the ground. This means that thousands of different users in the air could potentially clog up lines for the rest of us land-lovers, which is why the FCC was the one to ban cell phone use on airplanes all the way back in 1991. As for this ruling changing anytime soon, though, don’t get your hopes up.

7. Flying Is Expensive

This is one of the most pervasive myths about flying out there, and that’s really a shame because it’s never been more untrue than it is right now. While flying is still expensive in general, it’s actually cheaper than driving in many cases, especially where long distance is concerned.

According to AAA, it would cost you an average of 60 cents per mile to drive somewhere in 2016. Compare that to around 10-15 cents per mile in an airplane, and the benefits start to become apparent.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Off-Season Travel (Plus Tips to Make the Most of It)

This is largely due to the fact that air travel prices have dropped by an astounding 50 percent over the last 30 or so years. Throughout this period, air travel has also seemingly become something we take for granted, leading us to believe that it should be cheaper when in fact, it already is.

There’s also another factor to consider here, and that’s the value of time. Sure, you could catch a bus and spend dozens of hours cooped up with strangers, saving you a bit of cash in the short term, but what are you trading those savings for? Money is a renewable resource, but time is something we don’t get to make more of. When viewed from this perspective, that extra chunk of change to get to your location in a fraction of the time may not seem so bad after all.  

See Also: What to Expect from Your Flight Attendant: Insider Tips for Air Travel

Tyler Cooper

Tyler Cooper is a journalist with a keen interest in personal health, experiential travel and self-improvement. Tyler draws on his experience in the travel and wellness industries to report on products, concepts and initiatives that aim to make the world a better place to live.