Saturday, September 26, 2020 Edition: U.S. & World | Regional

The Most Amazing Facts about Planes and Flying

According to statistics, only FIVE percent of the world’s population has ever flown in an airplane. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. To bring you more astounding trivia about air travel, we’ve turned to the experts – from airline carriers to flight attendants to the Royal Aeronautical Society. Here are 35 intriguing facts about planes and flying.

  • The Boeing 747 wingspan (195ft) is longer than the distance the Wright Brothers traveled on their first flight (120ft).

Wright Brothers

  • The longest continuous flight (refueled and manned) lasted over two months. For almost 65 days in 1968, a Cessna 172 was flown as a promotion for a Nevada hotel. That flight still holds the record.
  • America’s best WWII fighter, the P-51 Mustang, went from initial design to production in just 117 days
  • The Concorde’s frame stretches by 6-10 inches on every flight due to the heating of the airframe at the supersonic speed of Mach 2
  • There are fewer Concorde pilots than US astronauts


  • The 747 maybe big, but the A380 is bigger, with a wingspan of 262 feet – longer than the aircraft itself, at 238 feet
  • Average age of a US commercial airplane flying domestically is 11 years, but many are still in use after more than 25 or even 30 years
  • Can’t fit into the seat with the armrest down? Be prepared to pay for two seats on many airlines
  • A secret stairway to a bedroom area for the crew is standard on most Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft
  • US citizenship is conferred on any baby born in US airspace
  • You are much more likely to be killed by lightning than in a plane crash. Chances of death in an airplane crash? 1 in 4.7 million. Even an asteroid impact has a better chance of offing you


  • Country with the highest number of fatal plane crashes since 1945? USA, USA, USA! Coming second and third are Russia and Brazil. To be fair, the US has the largest volume of air traffic in the world by far
  • It’s the little things. American Airlines saved $40,000 in 1987 just by putting one fewer olive in each salad served in first class
  • Pilots and co-pilots are prohibited to eat the same meals before or during flights. This is designed to ensure that food poisoning won’t affect both pilots and endanger the flight
  • Oldtimers. The Dutch airline KLM, established in 1919, is the world’s oldest carrier


  • You can lose up to 1.5 liters of water on an average 3 hour flight
  • Someone else paying for your flight? Qantas is credited with inventing Business Class in 1979, although British Airways had commenced the similar Club Class earlier in the 1970’s
  • Speaking of Qantas, this carrier, billed as the “World’s Safest Airline,” has a zero-fatality safety record.
  • Most commercial pilots are paid by hours flown, not by a monthly salary
  • Lingua franca? All international pilots are required to speak English
  • Airplanes are engineered to handle lightning strikes. Good thing, since each commercial airliner is hit by lightning a little more than once a year on average.
  • Why dim the lights on landing? So passengers’ eyes will already be adjusted to the dark if there’s a bad landing and the lights fail. One of those things we kind of wish we hadn’t asked.
  • Although smoking is prohibited on flights, commercial aircraft are required to have ashtrays. The reasoning is that some passengers are going to break the rules and smoke in the lavatories, so it’s better to have a safe place for them to dispose of the evidence, rather than starting a fire at 30,000 feet.

Airplane No Smoking Sign Light

  • Oxygen masks work for ten to twenty minutes, just long enough for the plane to descend to an altitude where piped oxygen isn’t necessary – about 10,000 feet
  • Yes, airport is as overpriced as you think. Parking a small plane costs less than the rate for a car in almost half of the largest British airports.
  • Stereotypes die hard. More than any other profession, people report falling in love with flight attendants at first sight
  • Speaking of racing hearts…A sparrow’s heart beats over 450 times per minute when flying in order to keep up the volume necessary. A human heart could never come close to the level needed to fuel extended flapping (not to mention the lack of wings issue)
  • The Reigning Champ: The Boeing 737 is the most used short-medium range aircraft. Every second, 2.2 of these aircraft land or take off somewhere in the world.
  • The Contender: The Airbus A320 is fast approaching the popularity of the Boeing 737, with one taking off every two seconds

Airbus A320

  • The first scheduled international air service in the world flew between London and Paris on August 25, 1919. Aircraft Transport and Travel later became British Airways.
  • Luxury class service began on 18 seat “Silver Wing” flights on Imperial Airways departing Croydon in London in 1927.
  • BOAC, a predecessor of British Airways, commenced the first commercial jet passenger services on trans Atlantic routes on October 4, 1958. Two De Havilland Commet 4 airplanes departed London and New York for simultaneous eastbound and westbound crossing fo the Atlantic.
  • The first completely automatic landing of a commercial aircraft was completed on a BEA flight at Heathrow Airport, traveling from Paris

Auto Pilot

  • Fastest transatlantic crossing was recorded by a Concorde flight on February 7, 1996, flying from JFK to Heathrow in 2 hours 52 minutes 59 seconds.
  • Shortest regularly scheduled airline flight in the world is between the Scottish Orkney islands of Westray and Papa Westray. Operated by Loganair since 1967, the route is only 1.7 miles and takes actual flying time of about 1 minute.
  • Aircraft are designed to withstand lightning strikes, with protection built in for the both the body and the sensitive electronics
  • Settling their nerves. British Airways serves up almost 10 million bottles of wine to passengers each year

Airplane Wine

  • 95 percent of the world has never flown on an airplane. A small percentage of frequent flyers account for most of the annual air traffic
  • The world’s first flight attendant was a man. Germany’s Mr Heinrich Kubis was Chief Steward on the DELGA airship Schwaben in 1912. He was also the steward on the Hindenberg, helping passengers to evacuate the ship and escaping injury in the disaster.
  • Overqualified? The world’s first stewardess didn’t appear until 1930 when Ellen Church talked Boeing Air Transport, United Airlines predecessor, into creating the position. She was both a licensed pilot and a registered nurse
  • Airplanes can encounter wildlife in their flights, often to the detriment of both. Geese, gulls, turkey vultures, and bats are the most common, but bumblebees have been reported at over 18,000 feet
  • Who knew? There’s a word for the remains of those birds that are sucked into the jet’s engine – snarge. Forensic investigators examine the remains to determine the species involved.


  • At any given moment, there are 3 million passengers onboard airplanes in flight


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