7 common questions about flying answered

Written by Travel Guide, Travel Tips

For many, flying has become about as commonplace as a road trip to the grocery store – at least it seems that way. With an abundance of airlines to choose from, and fares at their lowest levels in years, taking to the skies on a holiday or business trip is easier, and cheaper than ever.

But how much do we really know about airlines, and all the intricacies that go with flying? What do all those rules mean in the safety video, and why do we have to follow them?

We asked Todd Sturm, a travel writer and former international flight attendant for over a decade, to answer some commonly asked questions about the flying experience.   

Why do I have to open my window shade for take-off and landing?

Not every airline observes this rule, but many do, and for good reason. In the unlikely event of an emergency, it is important for flight attendants to be able to assess conditions outside the aircraft – especially one that would require a speedy evacuation.

Why do I have to put my seat forward on takeoff and landing?

As simple and arbitrary as this rule might seem, it serves a vital safety purpose. Flight attendants are trained to be on the lookout for anything that might obstruct or impede a passenger’s ability to quickly and safely exit an aircraft in an emergency.

In an evacuation, every second counts. Seats in the upright position clear a path to the aisle for the guests seated behind you, while also allowing for easy adoption of the brace position in an emergency.

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Why are the cabin lights turned off during takeoff and landing?

Cabin crew normally dim the cabin lights on nighttime and early morning take-off and landings, so that everyone’s vision is acclimated to the outside light. The principal is the same as the previous window shade scenario – a darkened cabin allows cabin crew to more easily assess conditions outside the aircraft. 

A darkened cabin allows cabin crew to more easily assess conditions outside the aircraft.

A darkened cabin allows cabin crew to more easily assess conditions outside the aircraft.

What happens to my pet when flying?

Pets are part of the family, so of course, we want to make sure that they are cared for if we check them in when flying. In the US, some small house pets are allowed in a carry case in the cabin, but most pets must be checked in as cargo, and fly in the aircraft hold.

It is important to advise your airline of pet travel at the time you book your flight as there are limited spaces available and they need to be checked in at a different area, usually outside the terminal where cargo is accepted.

Pets fly in a pressurized and climate controlled hold underneath the cockpit, and are often loaded just before departure. If you’re concerned about your pet, a flight attendant should be able to tell you if your pet has been loaded. Just ask before departure, when still at the gate and before the door has closed.

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When could I get bumped from a flight?

Airlines never like bumping passengers from a flight, but it can, and does happen. To protect yourself, check-in for your flight as early as possible. Often, the last one to check-in, is the first to get bumped.

If you’re on a flight that offers online check-in, do it early. That’s the perfect time to select your seat and print your boarding pass too.

Another helpful hint is to join your airline’s frequent flyer program. Airlines don’t like to inconvenience any passenger, as disruptions of any kind can hinder operational performance, but when having to choose who to bump from an overbooked flight, an airline’s most loyal flyers are more likely to be spared from getting bumped. Just make sure your frequent flyer number is in your booking.   

Window seat

Window seat

Why do I have to turn my mobile phone off in the cabin?

It used to be that mobile phones had to be turned off for the duration of the flight. Today, we simply put our phones on flight mode, and sync our personal electronic device (PED) with the airline’s onboard Wi-Fi entertainment system.

If you’re using a mobile device that does not have a flight mode option, it will need to be turned off for the flight. This will prevent phone transmissions from interfering with aircraft navigation systems. 

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Why do flight attendants say “prepare for departure,” and “prepare for arrival,” on every flight and what does it mean?

The ‘prepare for departure’ announcement is made just after the aircraft door is closed, and just prior to aircraft push-back from the gate. This signals the flight attendants to ‘engage’ or ‘arm’ their doors for flight, a task as simple as engaging a lever on the door.  Arming the door puts it in an emergency mode, meaning that the evacuation slide will deploy automatically when the door is opened.  

At the end of the flight, as the aircraft approaches the gate, the ‘prepare for arrival’ announcement is made, which is the cue for cabin crew to disarm their door. This task will disengage the evacuation slide, allowing for the normal operation of the entry door when at the gate.  




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