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Breathe Easy – 3 Myths About Aircraft Cabin Air

Breathe Easy – 3 Myths About Aircraft Cabin Air

Are you packing your worries about airplane air along with your carry-on luggage? You’ll breathe easier as we toss away three of the most common myths about the air you inhale in route.

Have you ever heard the rumors that you should sit near the front of an airplane to breathe better air? Or that passengers are sometimes sprayed with pesticides before flights? Or, incredibly, that airplane air is “mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50 percent!” (As we dutifully remember from high school, dry air actually contains about 78 percent nitrogen.)

Relax, breathe out, breathe in…they’re just misguided hoaxes and misinformation. But now let’s take a look at three of the most common misconceptions.

Myth #1. Cabin air is just recirculated over and over

Fact: While a portion of air is recirculated, an equal amount is usually fresh, compressed air.

Once in flight, incoming cabin air is actually what is called “bleed air” — taken from the aircraft’s engines before it is fed into the cabin, suitably compressed so it has enough oxygen. Flying magazine explains: “Because the air at high altitudes is too thin to meet human oxygen needs, engine bleed air is used to provide ­appropriate cabin pressurization as well as air ­conditioning. This bleed air is combined with recirculated cabin air before it enters the cabin.”

Much of the heavy lifting for conditioning the air for passenger comfort comes through Honeywell’s pioneering auxiliary power unit (APU) technology. And Honeywell’s new Electronic Bleed Air System (EBAS) takes airflow from aircraft engines to provide cabin pressurization and cabin environmental controls, also bringing warm air to the wings and engine to prevent icing.

Myth #2. Cabin air is stale


Fact: The air in an airline cabin actually changes over much more frequently than air in other indoor spaces like stores, offices . . . even restaurants. As noted above, airplanes work on a 50/50 share of internal and external air, and the air is never static. According to Travel + Leisure magazine, the HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters used to clean airplane air are actually of the same quality used in hospital operating rooms.

Myth #3. Cabin air will make you sick


Fact: Outside air is naturally sterile and, as we like to keep pointing out, outside air makes up 50 percent or more of the air you breathe in route (depending on the model of aircraft.)

Indeed, although a 2017 Honeywell survey indicated that 44 percent of flyers feared recirculated air would get them sick, according to an FAA study you’re actually more likely to get sick from dirty surfaces or sneezing people—same as on the ground

Not to worry. Modern environmental control systems (ECS) like those produced by Honeywell that are installed on aircraft will keep the cabin pressure comfortable, scrubbing the air regularly of toxins, microbes, molds, viruses and even smells.

Kathryn Kearney
Content Marketing Specialist
Katie Kearney is the global content marketing specialist for Honeywell Aerospace.


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