Your kids may have questions as their imaginations take to the skies. We’ve answered some of these questions to help make explaining your flight easier.
Why aren’t we moving?Time can pass slowly for little ones as they wait to take off (especially after the seatbelt sign has gone off and they can’t move around).
So, what’s happening? Firstly, the luggage will be loaded into the hold, which is like a big car boot. The crew will go through checklists and organise the galleys. They’ll also check passengers are comfortable and that seatbelts are fastened.
The pilots will check safety procedures and the flight plan, which records things like the direction they’ll take, how high they’ll fly, and the weather forecast. If you’re near a window, you might also see trucks pumping fuel into the plane.
All of this – and more – needs to be done before the plane can move.
If you’re near a window seat, this can be an exciting time as you watch the bags being loaded, planes queuing for takeoff, and other flights landing.
What’s in the cockpit?The cockpit is like a car driver’s seat but a lot more high-tech. It has lots of switches, computers and screens that help fly the plane. This includes an ‘autopilot’ flight control system, which is like a very high-tech computer that can fly and even land the plane on its own. The autopilot is designed to help the plane fly as smoothly and as efficiently as possible. It also takes some pressure off the pilots and allows them to focus on other aspects of operating the aeroplane.
There are usually four pilots on an A380. One pilot is the captain, who is in overall charge of the plane. There are then usually three co-pilots (sometimes called first or second officers). However there are only ever two pilots flying the plane at any one time (the others are usually resting). The pilots work with more than 20 flight attendants who will be in the cabin looking after you. The flight attendants also take turns resting on beds hidden under the rear galley.
How big is the plane?The A380 is the largest commercial plane in the world. It’s 73 metres long (238 ft 6.9in) – that’s 5 or 6 buses parked end-to-end. Because it has two floors it’s also as high as 10 buses stacked on top of each other.
- The plane is so big it takes 34 people 15 days to paint a single A380.
- The A380 has enough space for between 400 and 615 passengers, depending on the seating configuration.
- The A380 can fly 15,200 km (7,760 miles) in a single flight, making it perfect for long flights like Dubai to Auckland and Dallas to Sydney.
How does it stay in the air?Before take off, the pilot powers the engines up to maximum thrust. This is what pushes the aircraft forwards so it can move on the runway. As the plane speeds down the runway, air flows above and below the wings. The wings are designed so the air that flows at the top of the wings is actually pushed down. One of the laws of motion is that every action in one direction has an equal reaction in the opposite direction. So the downwards force of the air leads to another force upwards. This is called ‘lift’ and it’s the ‘lift’ that makes the plane go up into the sky.
How fast are we going?An A380 has a cruising speed of around 900 km/h (560 mph) once it’s up in the air and settled on its flight path. However the speed can depend on how heavy the plane is (including the weight of the passengers and their bags). Before takeoff, the plane needs to reach about 280 km/h (174 mph) on the runway – or more than twice as fast as you’re allowed to drive on the motorway – before it has enough lift. The pilot then uses a small control like a computer joystick to point the nose up and take off.
How high are we?This depends on the flight plan and the weather but a plane can usually fly up to 13,100m (8.1 miles) above the ground. Just imagine – that’s around 40 Eiffel Towers placed end-to-end on top of each other.
Can I take my seatbelt off?Seatbelts help keep us safe. The plane sometimes flies through ‘turbulence’ (when an air mass meets another air mass travelling at a different speed or in a different direction). This can feel a bit bumpy – like driving a car over a dirt road. The pilot will turn on the seatbelt sign if there is turbulence. You’ll also have to wear your seatbelt during takeoff and landing.
Why are the wings moving?Some of the parts attached to the wings move in order to help the plane slow down on landing. Other parts, such as the ‘ailerons’, move in and out (or up and down) to help the plane steer or change direction in the air.
You may also sometimes notice the wings ‘wobbling’ or ‘bouncing’ up and down. This is a safety feature of the plane. The wings are designed a bit like a spring or an elastic band so that they can absorb any extra pressure that results from changes in lift (usually due to the turbulence we discussed above).
When do the wheels come down?The pilot uses a button in the cockpit to control the wheels. If you listen closely, you can sometimes hear them going up and down. On takeoff they’re folded up when the plane reaches over 90 metres (295 ft). They are then put back down at around 900 metres (half a mile) above the ground as the plane begins to descend.
Why do my ears pop?Air is thicker closer to the ground because the air at lower altitudes is ‘weighed down’ by all the air above it (this is called the ‘force of gravity’). This means there’s less pressure the higher up you go. Even though the A380 has a pressurised cabin to try to ‘normalise’ the air, your body can sometimes still tell you’re not on the ground.
The air inside and outside your ears is usually the same pressure. However when the pressure changes like it does at high altitude in a plane, you can feel the different pressure pushing on your eardrum. Your ear has a tube that tries to even out the pressure when you swallow. When this happens, your ear will sometimes ‘pop’.