20 Shocking Facts About Air Travel

You'll never believe these shocking facts about air travel

Airplane in the sky
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More than 100 years after the Wright Brothers' first flight, flying is quotidian. Getting on a plane these days is as common as getting on a bus, even if the security procedure for the former is significantly more complicated than for the latter.

The next time you board a plane, it might never occur to you that you're inside a pressurized tube traveling at hundreds of miles per hour though air that's too thin to breathe and so cold it would free you in seconds if you were exposed to it – and that's just one example of the many truths about air travel we take for granted.

Here are 20 more.

1. There are around 7,000 flights in the air at any one time

2. There are no less than 20 flights per day between New York and London

And that's just if you use JFK and Heathrow as your airports. If you add in Newark and London's Gatwick and City airports, the figure balloons to more than 30. 

3. But that's not the world's busiest international air route

Not even close. The busiest, between Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan, carries 680,000 passengers per month, or more than three times as many as travel between New York and London. 

4. More than a million people fly the world's busiest domestic air route every month

(From Tokyo-Haneda Airport to New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, Japan.)

5. Whereas only 350,000 people fly the busiest U.S. domestic route

(Between Los Angeles and San Francisco.)

6. The average flight travels at 35,000 feet

That's about seven miles above the surface of the Earth.

7. At a speed of about 550 miles per hour

That's about 9 times faster than the average highway speed limit.

8. With outside temperatures of around -65ºF

That's colder than almost anywhere on Earth at any given moment of the year.

9. Flying is greener than you think

Although planes might seem like flying emissions factories, global air travel accounts for just 2% of humans' annual CO2 emissions.

10. And it's getting greener

Today's airplanes are around 70% more fuel efficient than the first jets.

11. Caterers prepare more than 100,000 meals per day

12. Most global airlines serve meals free of charge

It's essentially just U.S. carriers and international low-cost carriers who charge.

13. The average international economy-class air ticket consists mostly of fees

You can use any strategy you want to score cheap flights, but no matter how low your airfare itself gets, you'll still be liable for fuel surcharges, departure taxes, security fees and other costs you'll only find in the fine print of your air ticket.

14. Most airlines depend completely on premium passengers to turn a profit

One could wager that Etihad's margin on The Residence, a three-room apartment that goes for as much as $40,000 one-way, is pretty high.

15. Approximately 30 million aircraft departures occurred in 2011

That number is expected to nearly double, to 59 million, by 2030. Most of this growth will occur in developing countries, though not as much of it will be in China as you might expect, due to that country's overcrowded skies.

16. Aviation is by far the safest form of travel

In spite of high-profile incidents like the Malaysia Airlines disappearance, only .24 of every one million departures (about 0.000024%) of airline departures resulted in a fatal crash, for a total of 761 deaths. By contrast, approximately 1.3 million people die in road crashes every year.

17. For bags? Not so much

18. Bags are a huge source of profit, though

19. So are change fees

$2.81 billion, which for most U.S. carriers breaks down to $200 (for domestic flights) and $300 (for international flights). Speaking of which, where exactly does the money from those fees go?

20. More than 20 flights took off while you read this article

And that's just at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world's busiest airport as of 2018.