Three Aircraft Safety Myths You Need To Forget

These things don't take place on modern commercial aircraft

Airplane taking off with lightning in the sky
Erik Simonsen/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

For decades, films and television have provided an endless stream of catastrophic ideas about the commercial aviation industry, filling travelers minds with anxiety prior to boarding their next aircraft. From the idea of a midair explosion due to cabin depressurization to the thought of being stuck to an aircraft toilet seat, many strange ideas come to mind when travelers think of aircraft mishaps.

Not everything seen on TV is as dangerous as it seems. In fact, many of these situations are pure works of fiction, created simply to simultaneously scare and entertain modern travelers. While these aircraft safety myths have some basis in the truth, travelers may want to reconsider the facts before losing sleep.

Aircraft toilets are not as dangerous as they seem

Aircraft toilets are one of the most common places for travel myths to breed – and not just because of their general condition. In 2002, BBC News reported the unfortunate case of a traveler who got stuck to the facilities after hitting the flush button while still seated. This report caused the scientists of Mythbusters to try their hand at recreating the myth.

Another popular myth surrounding aircraft toilets include a common phobia of many travelers: deadly spiders. In a chain e-mail from 1999, the original writer claims to have knowledge of a rash of spider attacks in aircraft lavatories, resulting in serious illness and death.

Both situations proved to be entirely false. In the case of the 2002 woman attached to the toilet seat, the airline rescinded the tale, claiming that the purported incident was never reported to begin with. Furthermore, Dutch carrier KLM claims that while an airtight seal could create problems if the toilet vacuum were engaged, the toilets are not designed to trap passengers atop the seat.

What about those spiders? The spider myth was proven to be a hoax, from many tell-tale signs within the chain message. The "medical journal" reporting the incidents, the government agency investigating the incident, and even the spider itself were all proven to be a myth.

Lightning won't increase the chances of a modern aircraft accident

Earlier in 2015, a viral video depicted what appeared to be a Delta Air Lines aircraft being struck by lightning while on the ground in Atlanta. This lead to some speculation among flyers that an aircraft struck by lightning while in flight could be seriously damaged, leaving safety to be compromised.

This myth is actually rooted in some truth. In 1959, a TWA aircraft was struck by lightning and subsequently exploded, resulting in the worst aircraft crash of the year. Aircraft manufacturers learned quickly from the incident, and began re-designing aircraft to be less vulnerable to adverse weather conditions.

Today, lightning strikes still happen to aircraft while midair – but the result is much less dramatic. According to KLM, a mid-air lightning strike can damage some aircraft systems, but not to the point that the aircraft would be compromised. Instead, modern aircraft are still able to land, but are subject to a full inspection before being cleared to fly once again.

The potential for an aircraft decompression is highly unlikely

Another Mythbusters episode took on one of Hollywood's favorite special effects: the explosive decompression of an aircraft. In theory: puncturing the aircraft while compressed could result in an explosive decompression, potentially splitting up the aircraft midair.

As the scientists found, it took more than a bullet hole to tear a hole into an aircraft. In practice, a real incident involving a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 in 2011 resulted in a hole being ripped into the aircraft's roof, causing decompression in the cabin. However, no passengers were sucked out of the ceiling and the plane was able to successfully negotiate an emergency landing, through the oxygen masks were deployed to making breathing a little easier for passengers.

When the facts are analyzed, flying remains one of the safest methods of travel around the world. Without these aircraft myths in your mind, your travels can go smoother and stress-free.