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lilikoi's avatar

Pilots: How do you deal with the stale airplane air?

Asked by lilikoi (10031 points ) February 9th, 2010

One of the reasons why I dislike flying is that the air is recirculated. It’s not fresh, and it makes me feel suffocated. How do pilots deal with this? Particularly commercial pilots who log long hours in airports and flying passengers around.

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16 Answers

jackm's avatar

I love airplane air. I really do.

Likeradar's avatar

I assume it’s the same way doctors deal with blood, teachers deal with children, sanitation workers deal with trash, cabbies deal with traffic… they just don’t mind a whole lot.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Is the air in airplanes really that stale? I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way, except maybe when they allowed smoking on trans-Atlantic trips. I know I’ve seen stuff on the high quality air filters they use, and the Boeing site says that half the air flowing into the cabin is from the outside air.

I dunno, the only suffocation I feel on planes is when I’m crammed into a little space with loads of other people for 9 hours.. but I really hate being cooped up like that.

Judi's avatar

We have those little air blowers in our plane that blow fresh air on you just like in commercial planes. They’re right above my head.

andrew's avatar

@Judi You mean those air nozzles are bringing in fresh air, not recirculated air??

lilikoi's avatar

I now realize that as someone who made a living designing HVAC, I should really spend some time investigating airplane IAQ. All the interesting links I’ve found thus far aren’t loading for some reason.

But, it does look like they use insecticides in the plane to kill bugs, although I’m sure the quantity they use is not enough to have any adverse effects, or at least that’s what they’d argue. This is concerning though, to someone that doesn’t even use insecticides in her home…

50% OA is actually quite good by office standards, but the population density in an aircraft is much higher than an office. The IAQ of my former offices and airplanes is just not good enough for me to be comfortable. Judging purely by feel, I think it is partly lack of circulation, partly insufficient OA, and partly low humidity. This article on aircraft IAQ published by ASHRAE (industry standard for IAQ issues) is probably worth reading, but it won’t load for some reason on my PC right now.

I’m sure the health effects are pretty minimal for the casual traveler, but for airline industry folks that make a living flying planes or flying in them, it is more concerning. Add to this the fact that air quality around airports is poorer than some industrial areas, and that HVAC systems are often not well maintained (I could smell diesel fuel once at a gate at my local intl airport), and it is all the more concerning.

ucme's avatar

Don’t under any circumstances let the French on the flight,would be my salient piece of advice.

Tenpinmaster's avatar

You know pilots have a fantastic responsibility and they don’t get very good recognition. I know it’s a little off topic but THANK YOU PILOTS for keeping us safe! :-) You guys/gals are the best!

missingbite's avatar

The air coming in the “gasper” vents above your head is recycled. The airplane is pressurized and therefore the air in the cabin is “trapped” for lack of a better term. Most pilots that I know, myself included, just get used to it. Kind of like working in a candle store or perfume shop. The scent just dies down.

@Tenpinmaster Thank you very much! We almost all have a love hate relationship with our jobs!

Judi's avatar

@andrew; In our plane it is fresh air, but ours is not pressurized. I’ll have to ask my hubby (who built our plane ) If the air is fresh in a pressurized plane.

missingbite's avatar

@Judi Your Lancair is pressurized to a cabin pressure of 5 PSI. At least the Lancairs I know of are. It’s a great airplane. I’m not sure how the Lancair pressurization system works but I doubt you have direct outside air coming in the cabin. You might, but in airliners the air comes from air cycle machines that get recycled. Pressurization systems work by controlling the outflow valves of an airplane to keep a constant PSI. One more thing to know, and you may know this. If you are in your Lancair at altitude, say 18,000 feet, the air is very cold. Probably too cold in fact for it to enter the cabin directly. Air temps decrease at a rate of 2 degrees per thousand feet. So if you take off at say 40 degrees F and climb to 18,000 feet the outside temp would be about 2 degrees F.

Judi's avatar

@missingbite ; Ours is not pressurized. we opted for less weight, We were one of the first 100 lancair IV’s built. We fly at around 10,000 to 12,000 feet. Since we’re not pressurized my ears just can’t handle it to come down from any higher. We DO have heat in the plane (but not air conditioning, again to much weight and as you said, it’s cooler at higher altitudes and we really have never needed it except maybe on the tarmac.) Hubby is the pilot not me. I can’t remember what the airspeed that pilots look at is, but we spend a lot of time around 250 knots (on the GPS) Sometimes more, sometimes less depending on wind.

missingbite's avatar

@Judi It’s a great plane! I was just looking at the link you gave and thought it was pressurized. The air you are getting will be external fresh air. I wish I had a Lancair to commute with. I live in Louisiana and my work trips are in LA! Two commercial flights just to get to work. Anyway, great plane and I know you and your husband enjoy it!

Judi's avatar

@missingbite; it’s for sale! He now wants to build the evolution model

john65pennington's avatar

Just imagine what the inside cabin of an airplane was like, when smoking was allowed onboard. talk about stale air and 5th hand smoke.

lilikoi's avatar

True. My mom was in the airline industry back then. Sounds like it was bad. The HVAC systems have improved as well I think.

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