The worst part of every flight is indubitably the time before you even get off the ground. The plane is packed, everyone is anxious to get off the ground, and the pilot is taking upward of 15 minutes to taxi around the airport. Is the airport even this big? Where could this plane possibly be going? For something that’s about to take us thousands of feet into the air at over 300 miles per hour, we certainly don’t know much about planes—check out these 32 things your pilot won’t tell you to fill some of those knowledge gaps.
There’s actually a pretty complex system of taxiways and runways that pilots have to navigate before each flight, but luckily, they are well-marked—so even passengers can follow along if they know what they’re looking at! The signs that appear most frequently on taxiways are black and yellow and have numbers or letters on them. Letters denote taxiways, while numbers indicate runways, according to The Points Guy.
RELATED: Never buy these foods from the airport
Foods you should never buy at the airport
Foods you should never buy at the airport
“A big old soft pretzel is not a meal,” says registered dietitian Marjorie Nolan Cohn, owner of MNC Nutrition in Philadelphia. Those fluffy carbs might smell enticing, but carbo-loading before a long flight will leave your tummy rumbling again by takeoff. Look for something with protein and fiber that will keep you satisfied until you land, or better yet, pack a meal from home. Nolan Cohn recommends making a sandwich at home to save money or packing leftovers like pasta salad or grilled chicken in an old, washed plastic container, such as a cottage cheese tub.
Try not to lump your waiting time at the airport in with the “treat mentality” of the rest of your vacation, says registered dietitian nutritionist Libby Mills, founder of Dig In Eat Up. “Even though it might be the kickoff to vacation, you want to save those calories for something unique when you arrive,” she says. Skip the specialty coffee drink and stick with plain coffee if you need a caffeine fix, or leave room for ice cream at the beach instead of gobbling a bag of cookies at the airport. Don’t miss these other 15 secrets to staying healthy on vacation.
You’ve seen yogurt touted time and time again as one of the healthiest snacks you can get, thanks to its satiating protein. But that fruit and yogurt parfait isn’t the healthy and fresh choice that it seems. “Yogurt has its halo over it as a healthy food, and obviously it is, but in context of what additives are in it,” says Nolan Cohn. By the time you turn plain yogurt into a sugary flavored yogurt topped with granola and fruit (which, unlike fresh berries, is full of added sugar), it isn’t a healthy choice anymore, she says. Skip the parfait and choose a regular yogurt from the fridge, or try these 19 nutritionist-approved travel snacks you can buy anywhere.
Even yogurts that aren’t covered in granola or chocolate chips can be a stealthy sugar bomb. Fruit-on-the-bottom varieties are “not really fruit—it’s more like jelly,” says Nolan Cohn, and the dessert-like flavors and toppings can have almost as much sugar as the treats they’re named after. A cup of unflavored Greek yogurt is a safe bet, but if you need something less tart, vanilla varieties tend to have a bit less sugar than the fruity ones, she says. Try these other 13 healthy tricks for actually losing weight on vacation.
Granola bars are often designed to look like a smart choice, but there’s more than meets the eye. “Some are like candy bars in a really strategic marketing package to make it look like something way healthier than it is,” says Nolan Cohn. Granola bars can be packed with added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other decidedly unhealthy ingredients, especially if they’re covered in a waxy (and melty) coating. That said, a shelf-stable, portable snack is convenient when you need to take the hunger off during your travels, so hunt down an option with 12 or fewer grams of sugar, she says. Check out these other 10 ways to eat healthy on vacation.
A cheap, low-calorie cup of coffee might seem like the perfect treat while you’re waiting, but you might regret it once you’re seated. “Coffee has caffeine and can agitate the nerves, which might not make for the most relaxing flight,” says Mills. Plus, if coffee goes through you fast, you could end up making multiple bathroom dashes, she points out. Try a calming herbal tea instead, Mills suggests.
Large bar tab
While a glass of wine as you wait for your flight won’t do much harm for most people, you’ll want to keep your drinking to a minimum. Not only could it dehydrate you before an already dehydrating plane ride, but alcohol isn’t good for deep sleep. You might crash quick, but the alcohol will wake you up and keep you out of deep REM sleep as your liver works it out. “A less restful trip, especially if you’re going overseas, may be counterproductive to enjoying yourself fully when you arrive,” says Mills.
You might not have too many choices at a quick-grab sandwich station, but keep your calories in check by avoiding excessive fillings, says Mills. “If it has triple layers of meat or bread, that’s a tipoff that you’re getting triple servings,” she says. “‘Crispy,’ breaded,’ and ‘fried’ … are words on a menu that are tipoffs of an extra serving of carbohydrates, plus the extra fat.”
You might not want to rely on the bottled water from the airport terminal—and not just because of its sky-high prices. Normally we’d never discourage some good-for-you hydration, but hear us out if you have a small bladder. “You’re guzzling water before getting on the plane, then sharing a toilet with how many people?” says Nolan Cohn. Because hydration is important, especially when you’re stuck in a dry plane cabin, she recommends sipping extra water the night and morning before your flight so you aren’t dehydrated when you board. Especially if your flight is more than a couple hours, though, don’t ignore your thirst in the name of avoiding the bathroom, she says.
Anything your stomach isn't used to
When you’re about to sit in close quarters for hours on end, you’ll want to avoid foods that don’t tend to sit well with your digestive system. Steer clear of foods that normally might upset your stomach, such as certain types of fiber or greasy foods. “A hamburger and French fries or fried chicken before you get on a plane might not be the best idea,” says Nolan Cohn. “They have a higher potential for triggering diarrhea or GI issues.”
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A black sign with yellow letters means that you’re on the taxiway it identifies. So, if you see a yellow letter “B” on a black sign, you’re on taxiway B. Often, these are accompanied by directions to other taxiways, the signs of which are yellow with black lettering and a black arrow that points to where that taxiway is located. They will always be on the left side of the taxiway before the intersection, according to the FAA, and are arranged from left to right based on their location, clockwise, in the intersection. The same color rules hold true for numbered signs; the numbers just mean that it’s a runway instead of a taxiway. Back on the plane, here are some hidden airplane features you didn’t know existed.
If you think those red signs look a little more urgent, it’s because they are! Pilots need special clearance to pass these because they indicate that the plane is headed for the intersection of a runway, where another plane could be gearing up to take off. So if you’re feeling impatient while taxiing before your next flight, remember that it’s because your pilot is following certain rules to keep you safe. Nervous fliers, check out these facts about flying that will help you stay calm on your next flight.
RELATED: Things your airplane pilot will never reveal:
32 things your airplane pilot won’t tell you
32 things your airplane pilot won’t tell you
I've been struck by lightning twice
Most pilots have. Airplanes are built to take it. You hear a big boom and see a big flash and that's it. You're not going to fall out of the sky.—Airplane pilot for a regional carrier, Charlotte, North Carolina
You may go to an airline website and buy a ticket, pull up to its desk at the curb, and get onto an airplane that has a similar name painted on it, but half the time, you're really on a regional airline. The regionals aren't held to the same safety standards as the majors: Their pilots aren't required to have as much training and experience, and the public doesn't know that.—Captain at a major airline
If you're a nervous flier, book a morning flight
The heating of the ground later causes bumpier air, and it's much more likely to thunderstorm in the afternoon.—Jerry Johnson, airplane pilot, Los Angeles (You should also follow these air travel tips to make your next flight as smooth as possible.)
The smoothest place to sit is often over or near the wing
The general flow of air in any airplane is from front to back. So if you're really concerned about breathing the freshest possible air or not getting too hot, sit as close to the front as you can. Planes are generally warmest in the back.—Tech pilot at a regional airline, Texas
People don't understand why they can't use their cell phones
Well, what can happen is 12 people will decide to call someone just before landing, and I can get a false reading on my instruments saying that we are higher than we really are.—Jim Tilmon, retired American Airlines pilot, Phoenix
We don't make you stow your laptop because we're worried about electronic interference. It's about having a projectile on your lap. I don't know about you, but I don't want to get hit in the head by a MacBook going 200 miles per hour. And we're not trying to ruin your fun by making you take off your headphones. We just want you to be able to hear us if there's an emergency.—Patrick Smith
Some FAA rules don't make sense to us either
Like the fact that when we're at 39,000 feet going 400 miles an hour, in a plane that could hit turbulence at any minute, (flight attendants) can walk around and serve hot coffee and Chateaubriand. But when we're on the ground on a flat piece of asphalt going five to ten miles an hour, they've got to be buckled in like they're at NASCAR.—Jack Stephan, US Airways captain based in Annapolis, Maryland, who has been flying since 1984
It's updrafts, not turbulence, we really worry about
A plane flies into a massive updraft, which you can't see on the radar at night, and it's like hitting a giant speed bump at 500 miles an hour. It throws everything up in the air and then down very violently. That's not the same as turbulence, which bounces everyone around for a while.—John Nance, aviation safety analyst and retired airline captain, Seattle
Pilots find it perplexing that so many people are afraid of turbulence. It's all but impossible for turbulence to cause a crash. We avoid turbulence not because we're afraid the wing is going to fall off but because it's annoying.—Patrick Smith
Being on time is more important than getting everyone there
The Department of Transportation has put such an emphasis on on-time performance that we pretty much aren't allowed to delay a flight anymore, even if there are 20 people on a connecting flight that's coming in just a little late.—Commercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina (That's why airlines use this method to board as fast as possible.)
No, it's not your imagination: Airlines really have adjusted their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals. So they might say a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes.—AirTran Airways captain, Atlanta
I'm constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I'm comfortable with
Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel. Sometimes if you carry just enough fuel and you hit thunderstorms or delays, then suddenly you're running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport.—Captain at a major airline
You'll never hear, "One of our engines just failed"
What they'll say instead: "One of our engines is indicating improperly." (Or more likely, they'll say nothing, and you'll never know the difference. Most planes fly fine with one engine down.) You'll also never hear, "Well, folks, the visibility out there is zero." Instead they'll say: "There's some fog in the Washington area."
Our work rules allow us to be on duty 16 hours without a break. That's many more hours than a truck driver. And unlike a truck driver, who can pull over at the next rest stop, we can't pull over at the next cloud.—Captain at a major airline
When you get on that airplane at 7 a.m., you want your pilot to be rested and ready. But the hotels they put us in now are so bad that there are many nights when I toss and turn. They're in bad neighborhoods, they're loud, they've got bedbugs, and there have been stabbings in the parking lot.—Jack Stephan
Sometimes the airline won't give us lunch breaks or even time to eat. We have to delay flights just so we can get food.—First officer on a regional carrier
Most people get sick after traveling not because of what they breathe but because of what they touch
Always assume that the tray table and the button to push the seat back have not been wiped down, though we do wipe down the lavatory.—Patrick Smith (For the healthiest flight, never do these things on a plane.)
It's one thing if the pilot puts the seat belt sign on for the passengers ...
But if he tells the flight attendants to sit down, you'd better listen. That means there's some serious turbulence ahead.—John Greaves
Driving is WAY scarier than flying a plane
People always ask, "What's the scariest thing that's ever happened to you?" I tell them it was a van ride from the Los Angeles airport to the hotel, and I'm not kidding.—Jack Stephan
Most of the time, how you land is a good indicator of a pilot's skill
So if you want to say something nice to a pilot as you're getting off the plane, say "Nice landing." We do appreciate that.—Joe D'Eon, a pilot at a major airline who produces a podcast at flywithjoe.com (Be sure you're awake to see that landing. Here's why it's bad to sleep through an airplane landing.)
The two worst airports for us: Reagan National in Washington, D.C., and John Wayne in Orange County, California
You're flying by the seat of your pants trying to get in and out of those airports. John Wayne is especially bad because the rich folks who live near the airport don't like jet noise, so they have this noise abatement procedure where you basically have to turn the plane into a ballistic missile as soon as you're airborne.—Airplane pilot, South Carolina
At some airports with really short runways, you're not going to have a smooth landing no matter how good we are: John Wayne Airport; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Chicago Midway; and Reagan National.—Joe D'Eon
Remember: Bad weather exists BETWEEN cities, too
This happens all the time: We'll be in Pittsburgh going to Philly, and there will be a weather delay. The weather in Pittsburgh is beautiful. Then I'll hear passengers saying, "You know, I just called my friend in Philly, and it's beautiful there too," like there's some kind of conspiracy or something. But in the airspace between Pittsburgh and Philly there's a huge thunderstorm.—Jack Stephan (If you ever get stranded at an airport due to a weather delay or layover, here are some fun ways to pass the time.)
Is traveling with a baby in your lap safe? No
It's extremely dangerous. If there's any impact or deceleration, there's a good chance you're going to lose hold of your kid, and he becomes a projectile. But the government's logic is that if we made you buy an expensive seat for your baby, you'd just drive, and you're more likely to be injured driving than flying.—Patrick Smith
Passengers: PLEASE be more mindful of yourself and others
Most of you wouldn't consider going down the highway at 60 miles an hour without your seat belt fastened. But when we're hurtling through the air at 500 miles an hour and we turn off the seat belt sign, half of you take your seat belts off. But if we hit a little air pocket, your head will be on the ceiling.—Captain at a major airline
If you're going to recline your seat, for God's sake, please check behind you first. You have no idea how many laptops are broken every year by boorish passengers who slam their seat back with total disregard to what’s going on behind them.—John Nance
Whatever you pay to fly, we pay more
Please don't complain to me about your lost bags or the rotten service or that the airline did this or that. My retirement was taken to help subsidize your $39 airfare.—Pilot, South Carolina (Take an insider look at what it's like to be a pilot.)
I know pilots who spend a quarter million on their education and training, then that first year as a pilot, they qualify for food stamps.—Furloughed first officer, Texas
We miss the peanuts too.—US Airways pilot, South Carolina
We don't wear our hats in the cockpit, by the way
On TV and in the comics, you always see these pilots with their hats on, and they have their headsets on over the hat, and that always makes us laugh.—Joe D'Eon
There's a good reason for everything we ask you to do
We ask you to put up the window shade so the flight attendants can see outside in an emergency, to assess if one side is better for an evacuation. It also lets light into the cabin if it goes dark and helps passengers get oriented if the plane flips or rolls over.—Patrick Smith
We hear some dumb things
Here's a news flash: We're not sitting in the cockpit listening to the ball game. Sometimes we can ask the controllers to go to their break room to check the score. But when I fly to Pittsburgh on a Sunday afternoon, the passengers send the flight attendants up at least ten times to ask us the Steelers score.—Commercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina
I am so tired of hearing "Oh my God, you're a girl pilot." When you see a Black pilot, do you say "Oh my God, you're a Black pilot"?—Pilot for a regional carrier
People tend to think the airplane is just flying itself. Trust me, that's not true. It can fly by itself sometimes. But you've always got your hands on the controls waiting for it to mess up. And it does mess up.—Airplane pilot, South Carolina
I give them only to my enemies now. Sure, you can get a $1,000 airfare to Seattle for $100. But since you have to fly standby, it will take you three months to get back because you can't get a seat.—Pilot, South Carolina
Some insider advice
I always tell my kids to travel in sturdy shoes. If you have to evacuate and your flip-flops fall off, there you are standing on the hot tarmac or in the weeds in your bare feet.—Joe D'Eon
Cold on the airplane? Tell your flight attendant. We're in a constant battle with them over the temperature. They're moving all the time, up and down the aisles, so they are always calling and saying, "Turn up the air." But most passengers I know are freezing.—Captain at a major carrier
Here's the truth about airline jobs:
You don't have as much time off as your neighbors think you have, you don't make as much money as your relatives think you make, and you don't have as many girlfriends as your wife thinks you have. Still, I can't believe they pay me to do this.—Commercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina
Some airline lingo:
Blue juice: The water in the lavatory toilet. "There's no blue juice in the lav." Crotch watch: The required check to make sure all passengers have their seat belts fastened. Also: "groin scan." Crumb crunchers: Kids. "We've got a lot of crumb crunchers on this flight." Deadheading: When an airline employee flies as a passenger for company business. Gate lice: The people who gather around the gate right before boarding so they can be first on the plane. "Oh, the gate lice are thick today." George: Autopilot. I'll let George take over." Landing lips: Female passengers put on their "landing lips" when they use their lipstick just before landing. Pax: Passengers. Spinners: Passengers who get on late and don't have a seat assignment, so they spin around looking for a seat. Two-for-one special: The plane touches down on landing, bounces up, then touches down again. Working the village: Working in coach.
I may be in uniform, but that doesn’t mean I’m the best person to ask for directions in the airport. We’re in so many airports that we usually have no idea. –Pilot for a regional carrier, Charlotte, North Carolina
We sleep in the cockpit
Do pilots sleep in (the cockpit)? Definitely. Sometimes it's just a ten-minute catnap, but it happens.—John Greaves, airline accident lawyer and former airline captain, Los Angeles
We don't dress up for cargo flights
One time I rode in the jump seat of a 747 freighter, which carries cargo, not passengers. As soon as the doors closed, the first officer went in back and put on a bathrobe and slippers. No kidding. He said, ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to wear a tie for a bunch of boxes.’ –Tech pilot at a regional airline, Texas
Remember this before you complain about the cost of a ticket: Fares today are about the same as they were in the 1980s. –Patrick Smith