When it comes to travel, the "convenience" of flying requires a certain measure of patience to really understand. Normally, with a few deep breaths--and maybe a Valium--checking in, shuffling through security, and boarding the plane can be a fairly painless procedure. More often than not though, any delay in the process feels like a personal affront to our travel plans. Airports are catalysts for frustration; the Orwellian atmosphere and the seemingly endless cascade of arbitrary delays can send even the most composed passenger into a tailspin. The thing is, flying is an inherently privileged opportunity, and most of the pre-flight delays we experience--despite their perceived absurdity--are in effect to keep us safe, so we really shouldn't complain lest we take it for granted. So, while you're stuck in row 24D fiddling with the air-nozzle in the alarmingly humid cabin while waiting for the plane to taxi before take-off, what are those mysterious airline employees really doing that's taking so long? Let's take a look.
Flight Attendants, Prepare for Take-Off
A series of important steps are taken to ensure every component of the plane is functioning properly, inside and out, before the plane can be cleared for take-off. As aggravating as sitting in a stuffy cabin for an hour while drinking $7 cocktails can be, at least we find peace knowing that our timely departure isn't be held up by incompetence, but rather a meticulous procedure to guarantee our safety. Here's how it's broken down.
- Step 1: the Exterior Preflight Walk: During this first phase, the entire exterior of the plane is inspected, including tire pressure, hydraulic fluid lines, flight control surfaces, and lighting.
- Step 2: the Interior Preflight Check: During this phase, on-board computers verify that all the electronic components in the plane are functioning properly. This includes the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (to help pilots avoid air collisions), the altitude warning system, the fuel system, and the cabin pressurization system.
- Step 3: the Weather Condition Check: The pilots then evaluate the weather conditions at the departing location, such as wind speed, visibility, cloud cover, air pressure, and precipitation.
- Step 4: the Route Condition Check: During the final phase of the pre-flight safety procedure, the pilots analyze data regarding the in-air flight conditions, such as wind direction and speed, Jetstream, and fuel needs.
It may seem like a fairly streamlined process, but the presence of a single inconsistency can mean a significant delay for repairs.
Pre-Pre-Flight Testing: The Fowl Cannon
The four-step process listed above, though thorough, is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of pre-flight safety testing. Before leaving the factories in which they are built, airplanes are subject to a variety of tests to determine their overall safety, some of which are wackier than others. The most notable of these tests involves firing a barrage of uncooked chicken carcasses from a pneumatic cannon into the plane's engines and windshield to determine their overall resilience and ability to persevere through an in-flight bird collision. Other tests include subjecting the plane to extreme temperatures, bending the wings for turbulence load tests, and simulating lightning strikes on the plane's fuselage.
Now that you know a little bit more about why pre-flight safety procedures can translate into delays, whether those delays feel long or short, try to let this acquired knowledge relax you the next time you're waiting for the plane to take off. Remember, these pre-flight checks are what's going to guarantee you make it to your destination safe and sound, so breathe deep, give the flight attendants a big smile, and imagine all the tiny umbrellas that will soon grace your neon-colored mixed drinks as you fly to your favorite vacation destination.