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All the Horrifying Noises of Airplanes Are Normal

All those noises have an explanation, but I still think we’re making the mistake of playing God

I’m feeling nostalgic for the existential dread of flying on an airplane. No matter how much anyone explains the science to me, I’ll never cease in my belief that airplanes are ultimately a crime against both God and nature, and we deserve whatever punishments either powers may bring. 

Whenever I do fly, which I haven’t done since late December, I have to covertly chug a few nips before takeoff and maximize the volume of my Spotify playlist. As the plane begins its monstrous ascent, I close my eyes, put on something like “679” by Fetty Wap and meditate upon the cultivation of a brainless, buzzed euphoria. The sounds are absolutely the worst part of flying — I could probably ignore the sensation that my throat has fallen to my ass if it weren’t for the wretched lurching of the plane’s metal body. Hence the Fetty Wap. 

I’m only mildly comforted in knowing that just about every sound you might have any chance of hearing on a plane is normal. I literally get nervous when I hear one of those little attendant “ding” sounds. My assumption is pretty much always that the pilot is calling up the attendants to tell them that the plane is going down, and that they better call their loved ones to say goodbye. Usually, though, it just means the flight attendants are gonna come around with the booze cart

Smithsonian Magazine compiled a collection of various airplane sounds and their associated meanings in 2016, even including recordings of the sounds themselves. The majority of startling noises on a flight occur around takeoff and landing, when the engines get rip-roaring and different flaps and folds become flapped and folded. Any creaking, moaning, thumping or bumping is probably from different panels on the wings doing their intended thing, interior cargo shifting or perhaps from landing gear retracting or from shifts in airflow within the engine as it changes altitudes. 

You know, normal airplane stuff. 

Smithsonian notes that even the extra scary rare sounds are usually fine, too. Turbulence can cause a heavy rattling sound, and occasionally an engine might backfire and produce a gunshot-type sound. There’s not much of a reason to freak out (even though I absolutely will, no matter what you tell me), because large aircraft have more than one engine, and according to the blog Ask A Pilot, it’s basically impossible for a commercial flight to crash because of turbulence. 

Often, what sounds like a bang or a thump against the plane is just a big ole gust of air. While a big bump of turbulence might feel like you’ve dropped a thousand feet, Ask A Pilot says these drops are usually about 20 feet, at most, and that almost no frequent flier or pilot will ever experience anything of consequence while flying in their entire lifetime. (In addition to turbulence, you might also hear some thuds from the wings, the flaps of which might be moved to lift or lower the plane in the air to avoid these types of turbulence-causing gusts.)

Finally, sometimes what you’re hearing on a plane is simply shit moving around. It’s possible, as noted earlier, for your luggage to slide around beneath you, or for the interior structures of the plane to shift a bit, like an old house. After all, it is a giant hunk of machinery hurtling through the air — it’s not going to be a silent process.

If it’s too much for your ears/mind to handle, just turn up your college playlist and black out, like I do.