20 Secrets of Air Travel Which Passengers Do Not Know?

discussion posted at Reddit — which is now closed — poses a question to employees of airlines as to what are secrets about which passengers do not know; and the answers have astounded some other members of Reddit…

20 Secrets of Air Travel Which Passengers Do Not Know?

…but are they secrets about which you do not know?

Many items of information which can be considered general knowledge by frequent travelers could probably be considered “secrets” to the lay passenger who rarely or occasionally travels — so because the information is not from a ridiculous article written by some “expert” who believes that he or she is actually imparting “secrets” about which no one on the planet knows, I decided not to be harshly critical.

They are listed below in no particular order — and there are many more of these “secrets” listed in the discussion posted at Reddit. Click on the subheadings to access the source of each of the 20 “secrets.”

1. Minimum Equipment List: Items Which Can Be Missing or Inoperable

Propeller airplane ascending

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

“That there’s a huge list of things that can be missing from the aircraft while still being allowed to fly.”

A minimum equipment list is defined by the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States as what “Describes acceptable methods for the operation of aircraft under Federal Aviation Regulations Part 91 with certain inoperative instrument and equipment, which are not essential for safe flight.” Additional documentation in portable document format is available for you to download if you are interested in further details.

Some people might surmise that a member of the flight crew “having a screw loose” could qualify under what is permitted under the minimum equipment list — but then again, the same could probably be said for some passengers as well…

2. The Passenger Manifest

Speaking of lists, “Flight attendants have a list of who is who and what seat they are in. As well as what level of frequent flyer they happen to be. Or if they are employees or family and friends tickets. This is why you will see them being rude to someone or bending over backwards for jerks.”

This list is what is known as the passenger manifest; and I have seen members of the flight crew hold it in their hands when addressing passengers in premium class cabins — usually to ask them for their orders for drinks or food.

I suppose this could be classified as a “secret” to passengers who have never been assigned a seat in the premium class cabin — but then again, I have seen it posted on the wall in clear view between the boarding door and the door to the cockpit numerous times whenever I boarded an airplane.

Other “secrets” were posted by the same person which have little to do with this category, as they were lumped together as secrets from a flight attendant — but did you really need to know about how luggage is handled or about how you can score funds by being involuntary “bumped”?

3. When to Get the Best Deals on Flights

Sofia Bulgaria

Photographs ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

“I work Revenue Management for an airline. On average, the cheapest time to BUY a ticket is Tuesday afternoon. The cheapest time to FLY is Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday. This applies to US flights in my experience.”

According to this article written by George Hobica — who is the founder of airfarewatchdog — this theory has been disproven: “There is no magic formula.”

Rick Seaney of FareCompare would probably beg to differ. Not only are Tuesdays at approximately 3:00 in the afternoon Eastern Time the best day of the week to lock in low airfares; but purchasing airfares on Tuesday, August 22, 2017 can save your anywhere between 11 percent and 20 percent — so be sure to buy your airline tickets the day after you watch the total eclipse of the sun.

Some people receive alerts of airfares from multiple sources. Some people use tools such as Google Flights or Internet web sites which compile deals such as The Flight Deal. Some people read multiple weblogs. Some people participate in discussion forums such as FlyerTalk. Some people incorporate some or all of the above methods — but there is one aspect with which Hobica, Seaney and I would most likely agree: the more often you check these sources during the course of a day, the more likely you will find that inexpensive airfare…

…and keep in mind that some airfares can come and go within hours — such as this recent business class airfare of $548.00 from Vietnam offered as a Golden Ticket from Qatar Airways — regardless of whether they are legitimately published by the airlines or know as mistake fares.

4. New Headsets? Nah

“The headsets that are given to you are not new, despite being wrapped up. They are taken off the flight, ‘cleaned’, and then packaged again.”

…and what about the pillows and blankets?

headphones earbuds

These are the earbuds by Billboard currently available aboard flights operated by Delta Air Lines. Note the soft tips to be inserted into your ears. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Although this most certainly applies to those headsets which passengers borrow during the flight and must return to members of the flight crew once the flight ends, I am not sure that this applies to those earbuds or other headphones which passengers get to keep, as they are manufactured too cheaply to last long enough to be reused from passenger to passenger.

5. Graffiti Inside the Cargo Hold

“The amount of graffiti on the inside of airplane cargo bins is absurd. For example from planes that went through my airport…”

Photographs are provided as proof. I suppose that people who work with cargo must leave their mark on this planet somehow — other than by damaging your baggage, of course.

Well, at least your bags have some in-flight entertainment in the cargo hold while you are upstairs…

6. Be Nice to Members of the Flight Crew

Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence inaugural flight

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

“Flight attendant here. The nicer you are to us, the more we can do for you. Ran out of beef? Ask politely and we will get you a fillet mignon from first class.”

This should be no secret to you if you have been a reader of The Gate — but you should be nice to as many people as possible and treat them with respect.

Keep this in mind: “More often than not when passengers are aggressive and nasty we’d render minimal service and not extend more help than need be.”

This section provides some entertaining — if not true — stories and experiences from both flight attendants and passengers.

7. Ask For the Whole Can

Sprite cans 12 ounces and 7.5 ounces

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

“When the drink cart is coming through, you can ask for a full can of pop instead of the tiny little cup filled with mostly ice.”

This is no secret either — it seems to be on everyone’s list of “secrets”, such as this one and this one — and in fact, I usually ask for no ice when ordering a drink.

United Airlines

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

If the flight attendant cautions me that the beverages are warm, I may ask that he or she please put only one or two ice cubes in the cup, which are enough for me to cool off the drink but not significantly dilute it when they melt.

8. What Is That Tape Holding Parts of the Airplane Together?

“Αerospace fastener production here. Nobody еver asks what is actually holding thе plane together. Don’t worry аbout it.”

That would be an item known as speed tape, about which I wrote this article back on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 — and no, it is not duct tape.

9. Be More Concerned About the Water Than the Coffee

Bottle of water

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

“The coffee is absolutely disgusting because the no one washes the container that goes out every morning.” The station agents apparently get paid “way too little” and do not care about cleaning it. “I certainly didn’t when I worked for AA.” Additionally, they were supposedly not given the proper supplies to clean the container. “We pretty much just rinsed it out and dumped coffee into it.”

You might be more concerned about the water used for the coffee than the cleaning of the container itself…

…but perhaps the water dispensed from the aircraft itself may one day be safe to drink.

10. Where to View Scantily Clad Women

Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoint Atlanta

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

“Worked at multiple airports as a consultant and this is common at almost all I’ve worked at”, according to one member of Reddit. “Mechanics love to take their coffee breaks right behind the security checkpoint. This is where you will see women in a rush with their outermost garments off and bending over to put their shoes back on. The ‘jackpots’ are passengers that didn’t know a sweater or hoodie they are wearing had to come off until they are told to remove it by the TSA, so they have very little underneath.”

I have no comment.

11. I Can Walk Again! It’s a Miracle!

“People fake needing a wheel chair to gain boarding priority. 10 wheelchairs get on and only 1 person needs it getting off. We call um miracle flights.”

People pretending to be disabled or needing assistance simply to be able to board an airplane sooner sounds similar to people who purposely deceive airlines to pass their pets off as emotional support animals so that they do not have to pay a fee to transport them — and speaking of that…

12. Dogs Are Typically Not Into Flying

Shih tzu stinky face dog

Photograph ©2006 by B. Cohen.

“If you checked your Dog there’s about a 30% chance it’s terrified before it even gets on the plane, who knows how scared it gets during the actual flight. Bag room agents will usually try to comfort a scared animal, but all we can really do is talk to it, so if you write your pet’s name on their carrier it usually helps a lot.”

This item probably should not have been highlighted — if only to give yet another reason for people to pass off their pets as emotional support animals and not for legitimate purposes.

I have written extensively about emotional support animals through this list of articles:

13. Locks on Zippered Bags Do Not Ensure Security

“Locks on zippered bags are useless. You can pop a zipper with a pen and drag the locked zipper pulls around the bag to close them back up. I’ve done this many times to identify bags that are tagless and locked.”

I have no reason to doubt this information.

14. How to Raise an External Armrest

WestJet Airlines

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

“You know how all the other armrests can be raised except for the one next to the aisle?

“Turns out that one can be raised as well via a small button in a divot on the underside of the armrest. Useful if you want to spread out a bit more, though some flight attendants may tell you to put it back in place.”

As a reader of The Gate over the years, you already knew about this “secret.”

15. How to Enter a Lavatory From the Outside When the Door is Locked

“There is a small latch hidden inside the lavatory sign on the bathroom door, which will open the door when pulled, even when it’s locked.”

As a reader of The Gate over the years, you already knew about this “secret.”

Did I just experience déjà vu?!?

16. Different Meals For the Pilot and Co-Pilot in Case of Food Poisoning

KLM Atlanta to Amsterdam

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

“2 pilots are served different meals and cannot share, this is done in case of food poisoning.”

The pilot and the co-pilot apparently do eat different meals. According to this article written by Violet Kim for CNN Travel, “Usually the pilot gets the first class meal and the copilot the business class meal.”

This policy supposedly varies by airline and is not necessarily mandated by a government entity.

If this “secret” sounds “fishy” to you, the reason may be because you already knew of it from a certain legendary movie

17. How Your Skateboard Could Be Used

“If you check a skateboard by just slapping a sticker on it, it will get ridden or used as a dolly.”

Perhaps the owner of the skateboard should charge rental fees…

18. Do Not Switch On Those Alarm Lights on the Ambulance

“Paramedic here. If you switch on your alarm lights on the ambulance while being on the inner field of the airport (because…well you just get there sometimes) they will totally shut down all incoming and outgoing flights until they know exactly what’s going on. My Buddy learned this the hard way. Needless to say people got mad at him…”

I will remember this word of advice the next time when I drive an ambulance at an airport…

19. Industry Discount Tickets

“Employees and their families get ‘ID tickets’ (ID is for ‘industry discount’), which means they only pay taxes and fees and nothing for the actual ticket.

“The airlines basically lets them fly for free. And not just with their own airline, but with every airline in any alliance. The tickets are stand-by tickets, so you’re not guaranteed to get on board, but you get a seat more often than not. The family members can travel on these tickets without the employee.

“My dad worked for an airline in Star Alliance, so I used to get free tickets with airlines in One World and SkyTeam as well as Star Alliance. I usually traveled in business class, all around the world. A return trip between Europe and Japan was something like 200 USD in business class, and maybe 50 USD in economy.

“I don’t get any perks anymore, as it was only valid until I turned 25.”

Industry discount tickets for employees and immediate members of their families are not exactly the same as what are known as buddy passes; but here are a list of articles which I have written explaining why buddy passes may not be such a bargain despite their low airfares:

20. Unrealistically Low Wages For Pilots

“Sometimes your pilot can be on food stamps because they only make 19k/yr.”

This is the reason why Chesley Sullenberger — who is a retired captain from US Airways — has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the poor salaries of pilots. Sullenberger was forced to land an Airbus A320 aircraft in the Hudson River after it struck a flock of Canada geese during its initial ascent after departing from LaGuardia Airport in New York in January of 2009, disabling the aircraft and killing two of the birds. The quick thinking and actions of Sullenberger — combined with his years of experience and training — resulted in a rare yet successful ditching of a commercial aircraft on water with no fatalities.

Years ago, I actually inquired to a school about what one needs to do to become a pilot. I will sum it up concisely: spend tens of thousands of dollars and endure hundreds of hours of training to earn a starting salary which — if any lower — would indeed qualify for government assistance.

If you want to become a pilot, you likely would be better off joining the air force of whichever country you are a citizen — or gaining similar training and experience in the military — prior to becoming a commercial pilot.


The aforementioned discussion on Reddit is rather entertaining at times; so feel free to browse it when you have a few moments.

All photographs ©2007, ©2014, ©2015, ©2016 and ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.