Inflight smoking is forbidden not just for the comfort of non-smokers – there are actually technical reasons behind it

Inflight smoking is forbidden not just for the comfort of non-smokers – there are actually technical reasons behind it

Several decades ago flying was much less glamorous than it is now. Sure, people used to dress up for the journey, but everyone was smoking. Now we can appreciate fresh, even if a little bit dry, air in airplane cabins. But did you know that smoking in airplanes was prohibited not just to make flying more comfortable for non-smokers?

In fact, smokers in the airplanes didn’t bother people too much. They were typically seated at the rear of the cabin, where they could smoke without disturbing non-smoking passengers. Because air inside of an airplane is flowing from the front to the back smoke was evacuated pretty effectively, without filling entire cabin with unpleasant smell. When in 1988 smoking was banned from flights that are shorter than 2 hours, airlines were actually worried that people are going to fly less because of this decision. And now if you do try to light up a cigarette, you are facing a huge fine and/or ban from flying that airline again. Why is that?

Back in a day, you could buy cigarettes from flight attendances. That contributed to revenues of the airlines, which is why they were against in-flight smoking ban. Tobacco companies were also vocal about their disapproval or such decision. And, of course, smokers felt discriminated, especially when the ban included pretty much all longer flights. However, not airlines are very happy that no one is smoking in the airplane.

Smoking in planes was completely normal not so long ago. (Estormiz, Wikimedia)

The truth is that smoking costs money not only to people buying cigarettes, but also to airlines, because it increases the cost of plane maintenance. Smokers unintentionally drop ashes on the carpet, they fill up the ashtrays, sometimes damage the seats and so on. Cleaning airplanes that have been smoked in is more time consuming. Also, remember we said air flows from front to back?

The airplane cabin, as weird as it may seem, is not a completely sealed pressure vessel – it does vent out. The air pressure inside of the cabin is equal to the one at altitude of around 2-2.4 km. Air is constantly pumped into the cabin and so, some it has to be vented out through the main cabin outflow valve. The opening and closing of this valve is what controls the pressure inside. However, tobacco smoke can make this mechanism sticky. Thick sticky tar used settle all over the main cabin outflow valve. Sometimes it became so sticky that the system struggled to open it.

Now smoking in the airplane could result in a huge fine and even a ban to fly that airline ever again. (Kashif Mardani, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

Furthermore, tobacco tar used to cover all the airways from the cabin, which were a significant hassle to clean during maintenance. Finally, smoking could have posed a safety threat as well, if the tar glued the oxygen mask compartment doors too. Pilots used to smoke back in the day as well, but that wasn’t doing any good for electronics.

And so now smoking in most airlines is forbidden. However, ashtrays in bathrooms still exists. They are there just in case someone breaks the rules. If there were no ashtrays and someone decided to smoke, they would probably put their cigarettes out on the toilet or in the sink, which someone would have to clean up later.

The shortest scheduled flight in the world – how short is it and why is it needed? (Video)

The shortest scheduled flight in the world – how short is it and why is it needed? (Video)

How far do you go when you need to buy some groceries? Chances are that if you flew by plane, it still would not be the shortest scheduled flight in the world. Airplanes are convenient transport, but are usually used to cover long distances, because trains, cars and buses are better suited for short trips. So why the shortest scheduled passenger flight in the world exists? How short is it exactly?

The longest flight in the world, Doha-Auckland by Qatar Airways, covers more than 14.5 thousand kilometers and takes at least 16 hours to complete. It is not as insane as it sounds. For people, who do need to get to New Zealand or to come back from it, it is much more convenient than transferring one or two times on the way. However, it still sounds a little painful to sit in a plane for so long. Good thing most flights are shorter.

Pilatus Britten-Norman BN2B-26 Islander is perfectly suited for the task. (Mark Longair, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 2.0)

What was the shortest flight you have ever taken? Less than an hour? Maybe half an hour? Sounds like ages compared to the actual shortest scheduled passenger flight in the world. Before telling you about it, we have to define what makes a flight qualify for this record.

First of all, it has to be somewhat needed for people – it cannot be just for entertainment. It also has to be regular and conducted by some airlines. However, it does not have to be international or extremely popular.

Speaking of which, the shortest international flight for some time has been Friedrichshafen-St. Gallen over Lake Constance, but now it’s been canceled. Why? Well, it was never meant to be very popular. From the very beginning environmentalists were criticizing the flight for bringing unnecessary noise to a rather beautiful area and polluting atmosphere for no reason. A train would take 2 hours to go from one city to another, while car ride is possible too. However, a flight, covering only about 20 kilometers and taking 8 minutes was established anyway, thinking it will bring around 40 thousand passengers a year.

That, of course, didn’t happen, so this April the route was cancelled. There really cannot be any profit in these ultra-short flights. However, the shortest scheduled passenger flight in the world has no problem with money.

Westray to Papa Westray flight, carried out by Loganair is the current record holder. The route is partially funded as a subsidized public service obligation. Why? Westray are Papa Westray are a couple of small islands in Orkney Islands in Scotland, United Kingdom. Westray has a population of almost 600, while less than a hundred people live in Pappa Westray. It means that you really should not think about a bridge – it is simple not viable.

This is how the shortest scheduled passenger flight in the world looks like

Ferry, of course, is an option and it is being used for cargo and, sometimes, people. But both islands have rocky beaches, which do not make job easy. The flight helps bringing students and scientists to archeological sites and is crucial for the wellbeing of people in Papa Westray – that is how doctors come to see them. The flights between the two islands occur daily, but on weekends 8-seater plane flies only one way.

There are many shorts flights in the world, usually between some islands. However, it is unlikely that something is going to beat this record anytime soon. Officially it takes 2 minutes to fly from Westray to Papa Westray, but usually flight only lasts for about a minute or even less. Could it be a tourist attraction? Maybe, but a nice flight over many islands is probably more exciting.

What are those loops on the wing of a plane for? (Video)

What are those loops on the wing of a plane for? (Video)

Most air travellers want to sit by the window and enjoy the flight by observing different sceneries under the plane. If you happen to sit close to the wings, you might have noticed a couple of loops there. People have speculated what are they for, but the answer is much simpler than you’d imagine.

Escape ropes are attached to these loops in case passengers have to evacuate through the overwing. Image credit: Jetstar Airways via Wikimedia

The wings of today’s airplanes are very slick. Engineers of companies such as Airbus and Boeing do their best to minimize drag in order to improve efficiency. So that little weird loop you see on the wing of an Airbus A320 is a little bit odd.

Some people thought that it might actually have something to do  with aerodynamics. Others say that they attach special covers for the wings through those loops. Some imagine that the plane might be suspended by those loops when it needs servicing or when it needs to undergo some tests. However, the real reason for the loops existence is much simpler than these people think.

The Boeing B737 also has a loop on its wing, although a big smaller and harder to notice. Image credit: AltynAsyr via Wikimedia

Captain Joe, a Youtube channel dedicated to answering people’s questions about airplanes and flying, answered this question once and for all. These loops are a safety feature.

In case of an emergency landing, emergency exits over the wings are likely to be used. However, if they are wet (if a plane landed in water or it is raining outside), wings will be slippery. Therefore, these loops are used to attach escape ropes. One rope is attached between the mysterious loop and the emergency exit door, and another one connects another loop to the emergency slide. Passengers can use these ropes for support and then avoid sliding around, falling and injuring themselves.

Captain Joe also explained what are the the mysterious triangles over two of the windows on either side of the passenger cabin. People were thinking whether they mark the plane’s gravity centre (which coincidentally they almost do) or a spot for cutting the fuselage in case the rescue team needs to open the plane with more aggressive methods. However, these triangles just mark the front and trailing edges of each wing, which is helpful if, for some reason, one of the pilots needs to take a look at it.

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