For the nervous passenger: 5 flying myths debunked

Millions fly around the globe every day, yet some don’t trust advances the aviation industry has made. Experts expose the myths believed by so many uneasy passengers.

5 flying myths debunked
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5 flying myths debunked

Myth: Turbulence can cause a plane crash

For many fliers, experiencing turbulence is the worst part of flying; however, pilots compare turbulence to bumps in the road. Planes are built to withstand turbulence and severe winds. 

Patrick Smith, curator and host of and Author of Cockpit Confidential, said turbulence is not something he sees as a safety issue. He said it is a “very hands off situation” because pilots aren’t fighting turbulence with the controls.

“From a pilot’s perspective in all but the most unusual circumstances, we see turbulence as a comfort and convince issue but not a safety issue per say,” Smith said.

Technology is so advanced; pilots know the plane will not be impacted, only passengers' moods.

“During a flight, turbulence can have a large effect on the comfort of the flight, as strong turbulence can lead to a bumpy flight and large changes in altitude,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Steve Travis said.

Turbulence, unsteady movement of air, is caused by winds and changes in air masses. Flight attendants, passengers with unfastened seat belts and lap children are at risk during turbulence.

Myth: Lightning strikes cause damage

Because lightning is loud, bright and unexpected, fear of lightning is common. Smith said planes are built to withstand a lightning strike, including protection to electrical equipment and the fuel tank.

Smith has been in planes struck by lightning several times.

“Lightning is not something that passengers should get worried about,” Smith said. “The average commercial plane is hit by lightning about once every two years.”

Smith said thunderstorms are the one thing in which he doesn’t enjoy flying.

“I’ve felt uneasy different times crossing the ocean and having to deal with a line of thunderstorms.”

Thankfully technology has improved greatly, so extreme weather is more foreseen.

“Downdrafts and updrafts occur with every thunderstorm, so those are more predictable,” Travis said.

Myth: Autopilot does the pilot's job

There are many misconceptions about how frequently pilots use autopilot. Even with autopilot, pilots manually input a lot of information.

Smith said pilots still need the expertise.

“Automation in a high tech cockpit helps pilots the way automation in a high-tech operating room helps a surgeon, it makes the job easier,” Smith said.

Autopilot is rarely used during takeoff and landing. It is primarily used while the plane is cruising. However, the pilot always keeps a close eye on it and makes adjustments as needed.

Myth: Flight diversions are unavoidable

Sometimes diversions are avoidable, especially for fuel. Some airlines have found ways to skim on fuel to save money. Now, some nonstop flights divert only to stop for fuel.

“Then, that becomes a huge scheduling issue for airlines,” Smith said.

This doesn’t mean the planes are in danger of running out of fuel and crashing, Smith said. 

Myth: Pilots follow all the rules

It is hard for pilots to follow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules when they don’t know them all.

“There’s so much stuff that every pilot, on paper, is supposed to know by heart, and really it’s impossible to know,” Smith said.

To pass the private pilot exam, pilots need to score a 70 percent or higher, leaving a 30 percent leeway. However, pilots are fully equipped with extensive flight hours, classes and training.


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