Where do airport codes come from?
Capt. Steve Allright: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) assigns airport codes. Known as an IATA Location Identifier, each airport has a unique three letter code. Some are pretty obvious such as CPT for Cape Town or JNB for OR Tambo. Others are more obscure such as SPS for Wichita Falls Municipal Airport in Texas. Then there’s BOO for Bodo in Norway, FUN for Funafuti International, an atoll which is the capital of the island nation of Tuvalu. You can also visit PUB, Pueblo Memorial Airport in the USA, after which you almost certainly have to go to PEE, Bolshoye Savino Airport in Perm, Russia, just so you can say you did.
Some of airport codes were derived from when the National Weather Service in the US used two-letter codes to identify cities. So Los Angeles was LA. As air travel become more popular and it was clear they’d run out two-letter codes they added a third letter, so LA became LAX and Phoenix went from PH to PHX.
Why is my passport checked at border control and then again at the gate?
Capt. Steve Allright: The immigration officials want to check that you have valid documentation for leaving the country. They are not concerned whether you have the right documentation for the country to which you are going.
Most airlines check your travel documents again at the gate to ensure that you have all the necessary visas and any other documentation required for the country to which you’re travelling.
You could be detained and deported if you don’t have the right documentation and the airline may face a hefty fine. That’s why it’s worth double checking.
What causes the rumbling sensation, noise and vibration that you sometimes experience before landing?
Capt. Steve Allright: On approach to the runway the flight crew can increase the amount of drag to ensure the aircraft is on the ideal approach path. The most common way to do this is to extend the speedbrakes (also called spoilers). The disruption in airflow causes a light rumbling sensation in the cabin and you may feel the aircraft drop very slightly as the rate of decent is increased. This is perfectly normal.
The other thing which happens on approach is that at around 610 metres the landing gear will be lowered. This causes a significant increase in noise and vibration as a result of the increased drag, but again it is all perfectly normal.
Some people seem to step off a flight looking fresh and immaculate. How do they get this right?
Capt. Steve Allright: As the air is dry when you fly, a good moisturiser is crucial. Pile it on the night before you fly – this also applies to men. For women, if you can avoid wearing makeup on the day of travel that’s even better, if not, keep it light and avoid long-lasting lipsticks, which are drying. Once onboard, remove make up and drink lots of water to stay hydrated. A water mist spray is a good way to keep your skin soft, but remember you won’t be allowed more than 100ml through security. Alternatively pick up a spray in the duty free.
If you are lucky enough to be in the First cabin, you will be given comfortable pyjamas and slippers. In other cabins you may want to consider bringing your own pyjamas or a lightweight tracksuit so that you can fully relax – remember natural fibres are better. You may get some funny looks but it’s important to be comfortable.
One of the reasons cabin crew always look refreshed even after a longhaul flight is because they move around and don’t sit in one position for hours. Try to move around, stretch out and have a look at the onboard well-being tips video on the inflight entertainment system.
Ladies who want to ensure their hair looks good when they land should take some dry shampoo, which they can spray in just before departing the plane.
If your flight is late at night and you want to maximise sleep try to eat before you fly. Some of our lounges offer pre-flight dining, so if you’re a gold or silver Executive Club member of flying in a premium cabin you can take advantage of this service. Avoid alcohol.
Do crew have rest areas or beds hidden away anywhere?
Capt. Steve Allright: On our longhaul 747-400s there is an eight-bed overhead crew rest area in the aft cabin and a second on the upper deck behind the cockpit.
On the A380s which operate to Johannesburg the flight crew rest area is behind the cockpit. The cabin crew has its own rest area.
You’re not allowed to use mobile phones on board in case they interfere with the aircraft systems, but what happens when lightning strikes the aircraft?
Capt. Steve Allright: Lightning strikes are rare, but the aircraft is well designed to deal with such events. In fact a strike usually has no effect whatsoever on the serviceability of the aircraft. This is mainly because all aircraft are fitted with static wicks at the rear of the wing and tailplane. They look like long pencils and are designed to discharge any static electricity that the aircraft may accumulate.
Lightning strikes usually result in a loud bang, but have little or no effect on the safety of the aircraft.
Some aircraft have an extra winglet at the end of the wing. What’s this for?
Capt. Steve Allright: Without getting too technical, these extensions at the end of the wings help reduce drag and as a consequence improve the efficiency of the wing, improve handling and save fuel.
The pressure differential between the upper and lower surface of the wing as it moves through the air creates lift (this is what enables aircraft to fly). At the end of the wings, however, this pressure differentiation results in a vortex that can be so powerful that it can flip over following aircraft. The wingtip devices help recover some of the energy which would otherwise be wasted by smoothing the airflow across the upper wing near the tip.
Is turbulence dangerous? What’s clear air turbulence?
Capt. Steve Allright: Turbulence is uncomfortable but not dangerous.
Air has fluid properties. Just like a boat stays afloat on a body of water, an aircraft flies because it rests on a body of air. Just as water can transform from a glassy, calm surface into a rough sea, air responds in similar ways as a result of the elements. If air is stirred up a little the aircraft experiences turbulence and will bump up and down – but the air underneath it does not go away. Aircraft are built to more than withstand any turbulence they may encounter and turbulence does not threaten the aircraft’s structure.
Clear air turbulence or CAT is the most common form of turbulence. Unlike the turbulence you may experience when flying through cloud, you cannot see CAT or detect it on radar. Pilots do receive forecasts of possible CAT areas, but in the main rely on reports from other aircraft. They can then consider the options such as flying at a different altitude.
Why are cabin lights dimmed for take offs and landings and why must the window blinds be open?
Capt. Steve Allright: The reason is so that the light inside the aircraft approximates the conditions outside. This means that your eyes don’t need time to adjust after you exit the aircraft. It is also required by aviation regulation, as it makes emergency exit lighting easier to see.
Why must your seat be upright during take offs and landings?
Capt. Steve Allright: It is a regulatory safety requirement. When the seat is up it is locked, but not when it’s tilted back. An unlocked seatback has more potential to cause injuries during accents or descents.
In the eventuality of an emergency, seats tilted back can make it difficult for the passenger behind to assume the brace position.
Finally it’s worth mentioning that when you are putting your seat back, please try to be considerate to the person sitting behind you. Letting them know, making sure they don’t need to retrieve something from a bag under your seat or are using the tray table to work is just good