Aircraft carry all kinds of apparatus and tools that passengers rarely get to see, or even suspect might be on board. Most are there to deal with situations that rarely arise and they’ll only ever be deployed in an emergency. Here are 10, and in case you were wondering, parachutes are not among them.
“Passenger restraint” is the polite term, and yes, you can bet they’re on board. Usually they’re a plastic item sold under the commercial name Tuff-Ties which some militaries also use and they’re not unlike cable ties, although stronger and more flexible. The restraint might also be the more heavy duty Hawaii Five-O stainless steel product. Crew will break them out to restore order if a passenger looks like getting out of hand and threatens violence to another passenger or themselves.
Crew rest compartments
Rest time is mandated for pilots and crew on long haul flights but you won’t see them skipping out in the main cabin. Crew Rest Compartments are found on all long-haul aircraft, although they differ from one aircraft type to another. They’re essentially full-length single beds with either curtains or partitions for privacy. On the A380 they’re bunk beds, stacked three high. CRCs are usually found above the main cabin, accessed via a secret staircase, as on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Pilots often have their own sleeping compartment separate from the cabin crew.
It’s not mandated medical equipment but many airlines equip their aircraft with defibrillators. Qantas was one of the first airlines to introduce defibrillators on all its aircraft and all US-based commercial airlines are now required to carry them. They’re also carried on all Emirates, British Airways, Lufthansa, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic flights. In 2015 a coroner called for all commercial aircraft to carry defibrillators after a 47-year-old British woman suffered a cardiac arrest and died on a Ryanair flight. Later that year Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary announced that all 400 of the carrier’s aircraft would carry defibrillators.
That buffed looking guy with the military haircut? It’s not him. But it could be the slightly nerdy looking one in the floppy jacket, or the woman in the pants suit, but you’d better hope you never find out. If you discover for sure who the sky marshal is on your flight then things just got very ugly. They are there to maintain the safety of the aircraft and its passengers, mainly against terrorists. They carry sidearms but will only spring into action in an extreme situation. They will not assist cabin crew to subdue a drunk, unruly passenger for example – that’s too common, and besides it might be a fall-guy for a would-be terrorist to establish whether there are sky marshals on board. Sky marshals do not travel aboard every flight – far from it – but they’re more likely to be found aboard flights at greater risk of being hijacked. If you’re flying El Al, the Israeli national carrier, you can bet there will be sky marshals on board.
Grab handles for cabin crew
Next time you enter an aircraft take a look at the grab handles at about shoulder height just inside the cabin. They’re a safety measure, put there so that cabin crew can hang on and supervise and assist in case of an emergency evacuation, otherwise they might get shoved outside the cabin in the panicked rush to escape.
Cabin video surveillance cameras
US carrier JetBlue became the first airline to install video surveillance cameras in their cabins in the wake of the September 11 hijackings. Cameras are positioned to monitor the entire cabin; some are visible, others are virtually impossible to locate. The airline maintains a 24-hour security operation, Blue Watch, which monitors all the screens via a live feed from its aircraft. It’s now common for pilots to have a video feed from a camera mounted near the cockpit door. Some aircraft, such as the Airbus A350 XWB have a Cabin Video Monitoring System and Emirates uses CVMS on all its Airbus A380 aircraft.
Aircraft above a certain capacity are required to carry a crash axe, intended to enable crew to rip through panels and sidewalls to fight an electrical fire. This surprising fact was highlighted by the tragedy of Germanwings Flight 9525. According to some reports the captain, who had been locked out of the cockpit by his suicide-minded co-pilot, was trying to break down the door using an axe immediately before the aircraft crashed in the French Alps. Since the axe is kept inside the cockpit the captain must have been using something else. Due to anti-terrorism regulations, most carriers have replaced their axes with crowbars.
Another item that you don’t want to see deployed but they’re required for all commercial aircraft. Handheld fire extinguishers are provided for manual firefighting. The most common type use water or Halon 1211, a liquefied gas that discharges as a vapour. Each engine also has inbuilt fire extinguishers that can be activated from the cockpit and the engine housing is designed to contain any fire and stop it from spreading. The US Federal Aviation Administration requires that most of the materials used in the construction of passenger cabins are self-extinguishing, including electrical wiring and cable insulation.
Air-safety watchdogs have been advocating the rollout of cockpit video cameras for several years now. Capable of recording what happens on an aircraft’s flight deck, these cockpit cams are intended to supplement black-box voice and flight-data recorders found on commercial aircraft rather than providing routine monitoring but pilots have so far been able to block the move, claiming privacy issues. The International Civil Aviation Organisation, which regulates global safety standards for airlines, has the option of mandating video in cockpits or encouraging their use but so far pilots have been winning the video games.
Most aircraft have an oxygen cylinder for the use of passengers who might have difficulty breathing. This is in addition to the drop-down oxygen masks that are activated should cabin pressure drop.