General Question

troubleinharlem's avatar

Why do planes feel like they move so slowly?

Asked by troubleinharlem (7978points) December 7th, 2010

I came back from Jamaica today, and as we were crossing the ocean and the highway I felt like we were hardly moving at all. I know that we’re going a few hundred miles per hour, but then why does it feel like we’re going at the same speed as a car?

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5 Answers

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


if you were flying 10 feet from the ground, it would seem freaky fast.

The earth is rolling around the sun at 60,000 mph… yet it takes an entire year to do it once.

Speed is relative.

Rarebear's avatar

If you were somehow able to see a shadow of the plane on the ocean beneath you, it would be whizzing mighty fast.

Soubresaut's avatar

It’s the same reason the moon and sun seem to be going slowly—kind of what @RealEyesRealizeRealLies said. Or why when you look out a car window at the scenary, the stuff very very close to you seems to be whizzing by, but the stuff far away seems to be going by slowly.

Think of like a triangle-ish: <
The pointy end is the object. The two lines protruding out from it are the lines of when you seem to first encounter, then pass, it. Notice the open end, farthest away from the point, will take the longest to go line to line. It’ll feel like you’re traveling slower than if you were closer; really you’ve just got farther to go before the object is behind you.

And I’m no physics person, so if that’s not what’s really happening somebody jump in… that’s just how I’ve always thought it worked.

PhiNotPi's avatar

There are two reasons:
1) Since you are far away from the ground, the ground seems to be moving slower than when you are a few feet above the ground. Since the ocean is more uniform than land, it is sometimes harder to see its relative motion.
2) Since you are moving the same speed as the airplane, inertia means that the plane only needs to exert a little force on you to keep you moving. Your inner ear (responsible for balance) senses accelaration, not motion, so you can only tell when you are speeding up or slowing down. While you are moving the exact same speed, your ear can’t tell whether you are moving or standing still. We rely on visual clues and frame of reference to tell how fast we are going. Since the airplane is not moving relative to you, and the ground does not seem to be moving fast, your brain thinks that you are moving slower than you actually are.

mattbrowne's avatar

The moon is even faster than a plane. And it appears to move even more slowly. It’s all about distance.

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