Holidays & Travel

From free upgrades to the safest place to sit – 6 airline ‘myths’ explained

Embedded in aviation lore, are these long-held beliefs true or false?

Do pilots actively avoid flying over the Bermuda Triangle?
Air Canada jet arriving at Pearson International airport in Toronto (Alamy/PA) Do pilots actively avoid flying over the Bermuda Triangle? (Alamy Stock Photo)

We’ve been flying to holiday destinations for over 100 years, but the art of aviation is still shrouded in a considerable amount of myth and mystery.

Generated by fear, gossip and lively imaginations, the internet is rife with tall tales and alarming assertions.

Some rumours are so outlandish they have no foundation in fact, but other seemingly ridiculous statements hold a surprising amount of truth…

It’s possible to get an upgrade if you smile politely at the check-in desk

Yes, you can request to change cabin class when you reach the airport – but only if you’re willing to pay either with cash or air miles (depending on the airline). Empty seats are generally offered at a reduced rate or auction in the days leading up to the flight or at the point of online check-in. It’s also worth remembering that if a flight is oversold and the crew are forced to shift passengers around, members of the airline’s loyalty scheme with a decent number of points will be given priority.

Plane food has an unhealthy amount of salt

airline food (Alamy Stock Photo)

A combination of dryness, low pressure and (oddly) engine noise can affect tastebuds, making it harder to distinguish salty and sweet flavours. As a result, airlines do add more salt to make meals more palatable – with some reports suggesting it can be as much as 30%.

It’s safer to sit at the back of the plane

Travellers pay a fortune to turn left on planes, but statistically the safest seats are in cattle class at the back. According to a TIME investigation based on 35 years of aircraft accident data, those sitting in the dreaded middle seat had the lowest fatality rate at 28%. The next best option is an aisle seat in the middle of the plane.

Recycled air in planes spreads disease

This was a big concern during the Covid years, which was ultimately found to be false. Modern aircrafts use a filtration system similar to those used in hospitals, eliminating 99.9% of airborne microbes. So, breathe easy next time you board a flight.

Pilots avoid flying over the Bermuda Triangle

Map of the Bermuda Triangle (Alamy Stock Photo)

Conspiracy theorists may have you believe otherwise, but pilots do not actively avoid the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean, famous for the mysterious disappearance of ships and planes. Check tracking apps like Flightradar24 and you’ll find flight paths regularly criss-crossing the route.

Pilots and co-pilots eat different meals

Admittedly, they might have different dietary requirements but there is a good reason why pilots eat different meals – and it’s not down to fussiness. If food is accidentally contaminated, it’s vital the most important people on the plane don’t fall sick. The risk of these happening is reduced by serving separate meals to the cockpit team.