Most people don’t think flying is dangerous. Tedious, sure. But even if you know the most unnerving airplane facts, you’re probably aware real threats to everybody’s safety arise only rarely. However, there are still plenty of things you shouldn’t do on a plane. Things that, unfortunately, we’ve all done from time to time.
Read on to check out some of the most dangerous things you can do on a plane.
1. Eating food that’s touched the tray table
It doesn’t take an advanced degree to guess that the tray table is one of the germiest spots on an airplane. People do all kinds of things on those tables, including using them to change a baby’s diaper. Plus, the crew rarely has the time to thoroughly clean those tray tables. You can scrub your own with some antibacterial wipes, but you should still never eat food that’s directly touched the tray table. You’d be exposing yourself to all kinds of harmful bacteria — and that’s no way to start a vacation.
Next: Doing this could cause life-threatening health issues.
2. Sitting still the entire flight
Want to catch up on your reading or just take a long nap? It’s tempting to stay buckled in from takeoff to landing. But Cosmopolitan learned that’s a surprisingly dangerous way to go. The low air pressure in the cabin can slow your circulation and increase your risk of developing blood clots. Those clots can travel to your lungs, heart, or brain and cause dangerous health issues. An easy solution? Get up, and move around as often as you can. If you have to stay in your seat, change positions as often as you can, and move your legs around throughout your flight.
Next: Is your preferred seat potentially dangerous?
3. Picking a window seat for a long flight
Similarly, Men’s Health reports it can actually be dangerous to select a window seat for a flight that will last more than six hours. Enjoying the view increases your chances of developing deep venous thromboses, or blood clots, by as much as twofold. That’s because people in window seats are a lot less likely to get up and move around regularly than passengers sitting in an aisle seat. Thankfully, clots are relatively rare. But you should always make a point of getting up every hour or two to help blood flow and reduce your risks, regardless of where you’re sitting.
Next: This is something we “forget” to do.
4. Forgetting to put your smartphone on ‘airplane mode’
At the beginning of each flight, the crew will remind you to put your devices on airplane mode. As Travel + Leisure reports, the idea is a phone searching for signal can congest networks on the ground and interfere with the equipment the pilot uses on the plane. Most people don’t think their phone will really pose a problem, so some forget — or “forget” — to switch off their data.
But plane captains have actually reported to NASA about possible cellphone interference that could have accounted for electronics anomalies they experienced during their flights. In short, your phone won’t bring a plane down, but it can make things harder for the pilot who already has a lot on his plate.
Next: This healthy habit is extra-important in the air.
5. Not staying hydrated
Many people opt not to drink a lot of water during a flight in an attempt to avoid the cramped airplane bathroom. But The New York Times learned that’s a bad idea — especially if you want to prevent potentially dangerous blood clots from forming. Dehydration, an unavoidable side effect of the dry air in the cabin, increases your risk for developing blood clots. You should drink at least a pint of water every three hours that you spend in the air. Avoid alcohol, coffee, and tea, which can promote further dehydration.
Next: Save these beverages for after you land.
6. Ordering coffee or tea
Another good reason to skip the coffee or tea? They might come with dangerous bacteria. Both beverages are made with an airplane’s tap water. That water, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency, often gets contaminated with coliform bacteria. Coliform bacteria comes from feces, which typically host other harmful bacteria. Water contaminated with coliform is also likely to harbor things, such as E. coli, which can do some major damage. Your safest bet is to go with bottled water and to skip the ice in any beverage if it’s made from the plane’s tap water.
Next: Save these drinks for later, too.
7. Drinking something bubbly
If you want to cross another category of beverages off the list, Cosmopolitan recommends that you skip the bubbly beverages when you’re on a plane. The changes in air pressure can cause the gases in your body to expand by as much as 25%. Bubbly beverages have the same effect, so they just exacerbate the uncomfortable bloating that you experience when you fly. It might not be dangerous, per se. But if you want to hit the ground running when you land, you’ll definitely feel better off without them.
Next: This is common practice now — but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.
8. Taking sleeping pills
The New York Times also learned you shouldn’t take sleeping pills on a plane unless you have the space to sleep horizontally. (That’s not a common amenity, even if you’re in a premium cabin.) Taking a sleeping pill sounds like a great way to get some shuteye through the noise and discomfort of a long flight. But a sleeping pill that really knocks you out will keep you from moving around and shifting positions. It’ll also keep you from drinking enough water.
Next: A little patience is key.
9. Sleeping through takeoff or landing
If you’re on an exhausting trip, you might want to get as much shuteye as you can while you’re still strapped into your seat on the plane. But Cosmopolitan learned you definitely shouldn’t sleep through takeoff or landing. To equalize the pressure of the air inside your ears with the air around you, you need to do something, such as yawning or chewing gum. But if you sleep through the pressure change, you could experience symptoms, including dizziness, an ear infection, slight hearing loss, or eardrum damage. In the worst cases, you could even end up with nosebleeds or severe hearing loss.
Next: Something that’s uncomfortable but necessary.
10. Avoiding the bathroom until you land
Nobody likes airplane bathrooms. But if you need to go, you shouldn’t just try to hold it until you land. Cosmopolitan reports avoiding the bathroom and holding urine in your bladder can actually trigger an infection you’ll definitely regret. That infection will ruin your day, whether you’re at the start of your vacation or trying to adjust to normal life again after an amazing trip.
Next: This could endanger your fellow passengers.
11. Overstuffing the overhead bin
Space in the overhead bin is at a premium as airlines up their fees for checked baggage. But that’s no excuse to overstuff the bin and risk all of your belongings tumbling out on your head (or on someone else’s head) when you open it mid-flight. You should always keep your carry-on and personal items as streamlined as possible. Choose bags that will zip securely, instead of an open-topped tote that will spill your belongings all over the floor or bin. Even items that seem harmless, such as a book or an umbrella, can injure you if they come crashing down. Be considerate, and try to keep your possessions contained.
Next: These rules exist for a reason.
12. Not buckling your seat belt when the crew tells you to
Flyertalk reports passengers and flight attendants alike sustain serious injuries each year because they weren’t buckled in when the plane hit turbulence. When the pilot or crew tells you to stay in your seat and buckle up, you should always follow those instructions. Some passengers see the seat belt sign and just ignore it. But you can fall and hurt yourself or the people around you if you insist on moving around the cabin when the plane goes through rough air.
Next: Are you putting your children in danger?
13. Neglecting to buckle your child into a seat
When you fly with a child, you don’t have to buy a seat for a kid under 2 years of age, but you might want to. Condé Nast Traveler reports children sitting on a parent’s lap are the most vulnerable to turbulence-related injuries. Unexpectedly violent motion could cause your child to fly out of your arms.
As Condé Nast Traveler notes, “The National Transportation Safety Board has long called for requirements that infants be strapped into an airline-approved car seat.” So you might want to get your child his own seat — and bring a car seat on board, too.
Next: More on keeping your children safe.
14. Checking your child’s car seat
Here’s another great reason to bring your child’s car seat with you when you get on the plane. Babble notes if you need the car seat at your destination, you should never check it. It’s impossible for you to know whether someone dropped it, threw it, or even whether it fell from a dangerous height. Even a car seat that looks fine might no longer be safe in the case of an accident. So instead of checking your child’s car seat, carry it on. You can use it to keep your child safely restrained during the flight.
Next: How risky are your devices?
15. Carrying devices with lithium-ion batteries
Lithium-ion batteries provide power to devices, including laptops, smartphones, and cameras. But as Consumer Reports notes, they’re a known safety risk on a plane because they occasionally burst into flames. That adds fuel to the fire, so to speak, over whether it’s safer to stow such devices in carry-on bags or checked baggage.
If a battery catches fire in the cabin, at least you’ll notice it right away. You can’t say the same about such a battery in the cargo hold, where no one will notice it. In that case, it could actually cause other batteries nearby to heat up and ignite, too. We’re not saying you shouldn’t travel with your phone or laptop. Just make sure you follow the rules — and watch your bag for smoke.