Many people are scared of flying and every flight becomes a true challenge for them. But even if you are not this type of person and you know that, statistically, flying is safer than driving, some things on planes (for example, turbulence or a holding pattern) can make you doubt that. We decided to find out which of these things are absolutely normal and which could be really dangerous.
We will tell you why you shouldn’t be scared of strange noises, turbulence, flashes, and other things on planes.
Every passenger has probably experienced turbulence. This is when the plane starts shaking, sometimes just a little and sometimes a lot. In this situation, it’s okay to feel scared but you should remember that turbulence is perfectly normal and there’s no reason to panic.
Turbulence is caused by the difference of temperatures of ascending air and descending air, especially over water, mountains, or an air flow from a different plane (this often happens near airports). But there is no reason to be scared that the plane will fall or break down: it was designed for these conditions.
Of course, pilots try to avoid storm clouds and always warn passengers about the upcoming turbulence so that everyone has enough time to get back to their seats and fasten their seatbelts. But sometimes there are situations where turbulence starts unexpectedly. We will tell you more about this at the end of the article.
Flashing light in the window
Some passengers are scared by flashes of light in the windows, but in fact there is nothing scary about this. They are the flashing lights on the tips of the wings that, together, with other navigation lights are supposed to prevent aircraft crashes, especially near airports.
This light often reflects from clouds creating the illusion of lightning which is unnerving for many passengers even though there is nothing dangerous about this. By the way, real bolts of lightning sometimes strike planes, but this is completely safe for modern models because they are designed for these situations.
In order to protect the plane from bolts of lightning, the materials covering it are tightly attached to each other, the onboard systems are protected by copper grids, fuel tanks are filled with inert gas in order to avoid burning, and wings have anti-static dischargers. Still, flying in a thunderstorm is believed to be dangerous, so pilots always try to avoid storm clouds.
Another thing about planes that can scare an inexperienced passenger is bending wings. This is also not dangerous because the wings are flexible and, as we have mentioned before, aircraft are designed to fly normally in turbulence. More than that, planes are thoroughly checked before take-off, so don’t be afraid if you see bending wings through the window: everything is okay.
A holding pattern
A holding pattern before landing doesn’t mean that the plane has technical issues. It is possible that the airport is too busy, that there is an obstacle on the flight trajectory (for example, a flock of birds), or that a strong wind or a safe landing is impossible for some other reasons. Anyway, a delay is better than danger, so don’t worry — this is a very normal situation.
Vibration, creaking, and other noises during takeoff and landing
Most “suspicious” sounds that planes make are usually not signs of an impending danger. They might be caused by flaps that open before landing.
A strange sound (as if someone swipes a coin on a guitar string) during steering is caused by the power transfer unit — a device that regulates the pressure in all the hydraulic systems of the plane.
Clanking and creaking after takeoff and before landing is the landing gear being stored or deployed. And the vibration during landing is a device that prevents sliding. By the way, an abrupt landing is considered normal if the plane lands in the rain because this way it’s easier to control the plane.
Just like all the parts of the plane, its landing gear and wheels are made with the consideration of tremendous loads. In the photo on the left, you can see the result of a rough landing but thankfully the tires didn’t break (in modern planes, they are pumped with nitrogen), so everything ended well.
And these things are really dangerous
A very dangerous thing that can happen during a flight is icing in the atmosphere with cold drops of water and also near the ground and on the runway. During icing (by the way, even the engines can get covered with ice) the plane becomes heavier and may become impossible to control.
Fortunately, there is a way to handle this situation: in cold weather, planes are covered with a special liquid before the flight. And if the icing happens in mid-air, the flight crew handles it: they enable the ice protection system and leave the dangerous area.
Other serious phenomena are thunderstorms, heavy rains, tornados, squall winds, dust storms, ash clouds from volcanos, and abnormally high or low temperatures. In these cases, flights are delayed. But what can you do if a thunderstorm appears while you are already flying?
For this situation, the flight crew has an action plan and the plane has weather radar that can see storm clouds. The color of the storm cloud on the radar shows how dangerous it is: the darker the color, the bigger the danger. Depending on the color, the crew makes a decision about whether to follow the original route or choose a new one that is safer.
As we’ve said before, the crew warns passengers about turbulence and tells them to fasten their seatbelts. However, there is a phenomenon called clear-air turbulence. As you might have understood from the name, this type of turbulence appears in seemingly clear air, so there is no way to predict that it’s coming even using weather radar.
But in this case, don’t be scared that a modern plane could just break down. Even in the past, these crashes were very rare. For example, in 1964, a Boeing B-52 hit clear-air turbulence but it safely landed in Arkansas anyway.
The main danger of clear-air turbulence is that the passengers who weren’t in their seat might get injured. That’s why it’s better to keep your seatbelts fastened during the entire flight and when you need to go to the toilet, hold on to the seats with your hands.
Bonus: Do you know why flying from West to East is always faster?
You might have noticed this. For example, the flight from Moscow — Bangkok is 50 minutes shorter than the flight from Bangkok — Moscow even though it’s seemingly the same path. The difference is caused by the jet streams.
Their speed at a high altitude is from 125 mph to 300 mph. The Earth rotates from West to East and if the plane flies in the same direction, it uses these jet streams, but if the plane flies in the opposite direction, they create an additional obstacle, slowing it down.
Are you scared of flying? Tell us in the comment section below!