Posts filed under ‘Travel’

The Hidden Lever to Raise Airplane Armrests

By Chad Upton | Editor

Airplanes are cramped places.

The leg room is short, the aisles are thin and the headroom isn’t room at all. The bathrooms provide some private space and a complimentary gymnastics lesson.

If you’re tall, fitting your knees behind the seat in front of you is a painful reality that many of us live with each trip, unless you get an exit row, a courtesy upgrade or a hole in your wallet.

Even if you’re not very tall, when you stand up in your seat, you have to duck to avoid a head-on-collision with the overhead bin, especially in smaller regional jets.

But, a few years ago, I saw a person in the row ahead of me raise the aisle armrest. That was a game changer for me. No more ducking! Simply raise the armrest, then stand up while you slide off your seat into the aisle.

There are a few planes that do not have movable aisle armrests. However, most of them have a small lever or button on the underside of the armrest, near the hinge. Pushing or sliding this lever will release the hinge lock, allowing you to raise the armrest.

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January 17, 2011 at 2:00 am 24 comments

Why Airplane Shades Must Be Up for Takeoff and Landing

By Chad Upton | Editor

You may not have heard of this, but it’s law in some countries and it’s growing in popularity around the world. The reason is similar to why the airlines dim the interior lights during takeoffs and landings at night.

In short, it’s for safety in the event of an accident. With the window shades up, passengers and crew can spot dangers outside the planes before they open an emergency exit. Dangers like fire, water and running airplane engines can be hazardous if someone opens an emergency exit right into them.

During bright daylight, it also allows your eyes to adjust to the brightness outside, which could be critical during an accident.

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Photo: contraption (cc)

Sources: Airliners.net, Straight Dope

December 10, 2010 at 2:00 am 3 comments

The Real Reason Cell Phones are Banned on Planes

I should start by saying that smartphones and simple cell phones are not banned on planes everywhere. Air France started allowing passengers to use their cell phones in 2008. Since then, a few Eastern airlines have followed suit.

These airlines use an in flight system that mimics cell phone towers found on the ground. The system relays the call/text/email to a satellite and back to the ground from there. Similar systems have been on cruise ships for years. On cruise ships, they use these systems because there aren’t any ground based cell phone towers in the middle of the ocean.

When you drive in a car, your cell phone call may jump from tower to tower as you travel out of range from one tower and into range of another. These jumps used to cause an echo with early cell phone networks, but it is pretty seamless today. Well, at least in your car it is. Airplanes move much more quickly and the network cannot pass your call from tower to tower at that speed. That’s why airplane systems typically bounce your call off a satellite, which it can easily maintain a connection to.

An unintended benefit of having the cellular connection on the plane is that the cell phone doesn’t require a lot of power to connect the call, so your battery will last longer and there will be less electromagnetic radiation in the plane. If you phone was attempting to connect to ground based towers it would have to amplify the signal much more and that consumes more battery power.

So, the technology exists. Why don’t most airlines allow it?

Firstly, there is the myth that cell phones cause interference with navigational equipment. Most people aren’t going to try to test it either, no phone call is important enough to take that risk. But, if you fly a lot then chances are good that you’ve realize mid-flight that you forgot to turn your phone off. It doesn’t appear that there have been any equipment problems. You seem to be flying in the right direction and you haven’t heard any complaints from the cockpit.

I asked an airline insider about this and they checked with some pilots and filled me in on the details. They said that old analog cell phones may have caused problems, but there is no evidence that digital phones cause any problems. Like I said before, Air France has been doing it for two years now without incident and there have been a number of studies that failed to find any incompatibilities between aircraft systems and cell phones. In fact, the problems are more likely with the ground based systems as they scramble to route your call to the nearest tower as you pass a new tower every few seconds in an airplane.

Here’s where it gets really interesting, many planes already have equipment to route in-flight cell phone calls without going to ground based towers (similar to what Air France uses to properly route cell phones through satellites). This equipment is often part of the system that planes use to offer in-flight wifi. Many US carriers currently offer that service and much of that equipment has cellular capability, it’s just not enabled right now.

If it was truly a problem with airplane systems, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) would surely support the ban of cell phones. Instead, the FAA blames the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) for the in-flight cell phone ban.

The FCC regulates all electronics that are sold in the United States and they readily admit they’re cautious about changing the rules on this issue. Their main goal is to prevent electronics from interfering and causing problems with each other, especially with emergency and government systems. They say that limited information is available on the safety of using cell phones on airplanes.  They also note that consumers don’t want cell phones on planes.

They’re probably right about cell phone calls on the plane, although I’m not sure if that is their decision to make. I could see a war between airlines who adopt the technology and those who promote their flights as cell phone free.

The interesting thing about the technology is that the airlines can control which services the passengers can use. They can disable calls, but allow text messages and emails/data to be transferred. Disabling calls would maintain a flight environment similar to what we have now and that would ensure that screaming babies retain their exclusive right to prevent you from sleeping on red-eye flights.

As more airlines install the equipment for in-flight wifi, they’ll be itching to generate revenue from in-flight cell phone usage too. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the airlines lobbying the FCC for the right to offer these services. When they do, sign me up for the deluxe service package: 1 piece of luggage, cellular usage, 1 meal, 1 life vest during an emergency  and 1 bathroom break — not necessarily in that order.

Thanks to Gina for suggesting this secret!

Related: Why Airlines Dim the Lights Before Night Landings

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Live Science, ABC, OnAir

Photo: lrargerich

June 24, 2010 at 5:00 am 11 comments

Altitude Does Not Increase the Effect of Alcohol

By Chad Upton | Editor

Whether you’re in a plane, at the top of a ski hill or reading this in the mile high city, your body will metabolize alcohol exactly the same in all cases.

It is a common myth that you get drunk at high altitude much faster than at lower altitudes. In fact, I set out to research why this is the case, only to find out it’s not the truth.

As you can probably imagine, they didn’t have any trouble finding volunteers to help them get to the bottom of this — it has been studied and studied and studied and studied (PDF).

Even without alcohol, high altitudes can induce high-altitude sickness, which happens because there is less oxygen in the air. Because the symptoms are much the same as a hangover (headache, nausea, vomiting…etc), the effects of alcohol are often confused with high-altitude sickness. In fact, there is a study that shows Alcohol can impede the initial stages of adapting to high altitude; therefore, it is recommended that people do not drink for the first couple days while their body acclimatizes to the lower oxygen levels of high altitudes.

A study with alpine skiers in Austria tested blood-alcohol content at sea-level and at 10,000 feet. After drinking a liter of beer, their blood-alcohol levels were the same regardless of altitude.

An FAA study (PDF) found that both alcohol and altitude affect pilot performance, but there was no interaction between the two. Altitude does affect your ability to perform tasks, but that effect is present with or without alcohol. Another US government funded study found the same thing, concluding, “there was no synergistic interactive effect of alcohol and altitude on either breathalyzer readings or performance scores.”

From my observations, college loans are another popular way to get government money to study the effects of alcohol.

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Sources: Pub Med, High Altitude, Annals, FAA (PDF), AHA

Photo: evilmidori (cc)

Relevant:

Professionals should always supervise detox from alcohol and other drugs to prevent any untoward medical mishaps.

May 19, 2010 at 5:00 am 8 comments

Use Your Watch as a Compass

I remember in third grade science class, my teacher asked for a helper who had a watch with a second hand. I volunteered because my watch had two hands, the first one and the second one. I was really embarrassed when she explained that the second hand was actually a third hand that measured seconds.

Watches are more jewelry than necessity these days. Many young people don’t wear watches because their cell phone keeps the time. But, if you do have an analog watch, you can use it as a compass. If you don’t have an analog watch, you can draw one in the dirt or picture it in your mind.

Let’s say you’re lost in the woods, or maybe you’re just lost on Wood street in Chicago. You know it’s getting close to dinner time and you were going to meet your friend by the lake for dinner. You know the lake is East, but you don’t know which way that is. So, you think back to this post on BrokenSecrets.com. (more…)

April 22, 2010 at 12:12 am 5 comments

Airplanes Refresh Cabin Air 20 Times an Hour

I was on an airplane a couple days ago and the person in front of me was coughing a lot, they sounded really sick.

I was just starting my vacation and the last thing I wanted was to get sick. So, I couldn’t help thinking about being trapped on the plane for the next four hours, breathing the same air as them.

I started to think about the air quality in general. I mean, people always talk about how bad jetliner air quality is, but I really didn’t know much about it.

I did some research and the air quality on planes, at least newer ones, seems pretty good.

Firstly, the air is not circulated from front to back, it is circulated side to side. That means you’re mostly sharing the air with the people in your immediate area, not the entire plane, which reduces the spread of germs. (more…)

March 11, 2010 at 3:12 am 4 comments

The Mall of America Does Not Have a Central Heating System

By Chad Upton | Editor

In case you’re not familiar with the Mall of America, it’s a 2.5 million sq. ft. shopping center in Bloomington Minnesota, a suburb of the “Twin Cities” (Minneapolis and Saint Paul). The mall opened in 1992 and contains more than 520 stores, two seven story parking garages with a total of 20,000 parking spaces, a giant aquarium and of course an indoor amusement park.

Photo by Dave Wallick

I was there in 1993 on a big family road trip and it was amazing. A building of this size seems like it should have a massive heating system to stay comfortable during winter months. But, the engineers had a much more creative solution in mind. (more…)

March 2, 2010 at 12:35 am 33 comments

How to Get the Best Price When Shopping Online

The internet has completely changed bargain hunting and finding the best price couldn’t be any easier.

I like to use Google products (formerly known as “Froogle”). It compares prices at thousands of retailers and show you the best deals along with ratings for each retailer.

Google products also searches sites like ebay. Although, it’s worthwhile checking ebay independently, there are lots of auctions for new products or if you’re willing to take a used one then you’ll get a great deal. If you’ve looking for something that doesn’t ship well, such as appliances, be sure to check craigslist.org or kijiji.com (owned by ebay). They let you search for products in your area so shipping is not necessary.

Sometimes the best price is at a website you’ve never heard of. This is when customer ratings and common sense are really helpful. If you’ve never heard of the retailer and can’t find a phone number for the office on the site, then I probably wouldn’t order from them. Amazon might be the only exception to this and in fact they’re one of my favorite online retailers, they frequently have the best price and their shipping and customer service are great.

If you’re searching for cameras, be weary of small companies based in New York City. They usually have the best price on camera equipment, but there are lots of online horror stories about some of these companies.

(more…)

February 26, 2010 at 12:48 am Leave a comment

Why do Airplanes Fly at High Altitudes?

A few years ago, I was on a short, low altitude flight on a cold December evening in the Northeast. Because it was a short flight to a tiny airport, the aircraft was a small turboprop plane.

The flight was bumpy from the start. Somewhere in the middle, the flight crew was providing beverage service when the captain turned on the fasten seat belt sign. He instructed the crew to return to their seats and buckle up; before they made it to their seats, we hit a low pressure air pocket and the plane took a sudden drop.

It was just like a roller coaster making its towering first drop. We were in free fall for what felt like a really long time, but was probably only a couple of seconds. A few people flew out of their seats and hit their heads on the overhead bins, the crew was in the isle and did the same. Drinks, books, purses and other personal articles were thrown around the cabin, making a huge mess. (more…)

February 23, 2010 at 1:06 am 1 comment

Why Airplanes Don’t Always Fly in Straight Lines to Their Destination

If you’ve ever been on a flight equipped with a screen that shows the flight path, you might notice some zigs and zags that make your direct flight look like a scenic air tour. There are a number of reasons for this, but most of the time it comes down to Air Traffic Control (ATC).

Some people think that air traffic controllers are the guys that stand on the ground, waving lighted wands to guide the plane up to the gate. Those guys are actually part of the ground crew and they only have control over your flight for the last couple hundred feet before you reach the gate. The rest of the flight is controlled by someone else and it’s not the pilot.

The pilot flies the plane, but his course is being set by somebody on the ground. Those people are known as Air Traffic Controllers.

This system is a lot more complicated than it seems.

At the airport, the air traffic controllers sit up in the control tower. Those guys decide who gets to take off and land, which runways they use and when. They also direct planes that are moving around on the ground between gates and runways on the apron and taxiways. This aims to provide an organized flow of ground traffic and a safe flow of air traffic.

Once your plane has left the immediate area of the airport, the pilot must then communicate with a regional controller at an Area Control Center (ACC). If you’re on a long flight, you may get passed from one ACC to the next multiple times as you fly across the country.

Why? (more…)

February 17, 2010 at 2:39 am 13 comments

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