The 7 biggest travel myths — and the real story behind each

There are lots of air travel myths floating around, but some are more prevalent than others.

These are the ones I get asked about the most. See which are true and which are fake, and learn the real story behind them all.

Myth: A crazy passenger can open the airplane door in mid-flight

emergency door on airplane

emergency door on airplane (iStock)

The real story: Don’t worry; if someone tries to open the cabin door while you’re cruising along at 35,000 feet, the door will stay shut. Nevertheless, a succession of addled passengers keep trying, according to news reports. (Authorities usually blame this on panic, mental instability, drugs or alcohol.) The reason doors don’t open has to do with the shape of the doors, but mostly due to the pressure both inside and outside the airplane.


Myth: Cancelled flight? Don’t worry, the airline will give you vouchers


The real story: Some airlines used to give hotel and food vouchers when planes were delayed or canceled; today, it is rare, and there is no requirement that airlines do this. See the Department of Transportation’s guide for airline passengers, called Fly Rights for a full explanation, but this is the paragraph you’ll want to see:

“Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements. If you are delayed, ask the airline staff if it will pay for meals or a phone call. Some airlines, often those charging very low fares, do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers. Others may not offer amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or something else beyond the airline's control. Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”

Myth: Those super-cheap airlines always have the best deals


The real story: Sure, Frontier or Spirit or Allegiant often have very cheap fares, but they aren’t always the cheapest — not every day and not on every route. This is why you should always shop on an airfare comparison site to be sure of finding the very cheapest ticket. And if you’ll be flying domestic or to the Caribbean, do a separate search at Southwest Airlines as well, because Southwest is the only U.S. carrier that does not share prices with comparison sites.


Myth: Flight attendants are on the plane mostly for your comfort


The real story: The main responsibility of flight attendants is safety — yours. Yes, they do push drink carts down the aisle to serve you drinks, but consider that a bonus. Their real work is making sure passengers are safe and secure. This means a crew member’s word is law on a plane, and if one of them tells you to do something, you are obligated to obey.

Myth: You’ll always save money by using a carry-on bag

Dozens of suitcases in the airport floor

Dozens of suitcases in the airport floor (iStock)

The real story: On many airlines, carry-on bags are free, but some charge for all luggage, carry-ons and checked-bags alike. Be sure you know your airline’s bag policy in advance, and if you are charged a fee, pay it at your earliest convenience (it’s usually cheaper that way). Tip: Use a carry-on even if there is a charge, because the bag that travels by your side is the bag the airlines can’t lose.


Myth: You can purchase tickets at the very last minute for incredible deals


The real story: This was sometimes true years ago, but that was before airlines perfected the art of capacity cutting. Today, computers basically tell airlines exactly how many of us want to fly any given route on any given day, so they can fill all their seats (or most of them). In other words, they no longer have to entice us with last-minute bargains to fill those last couple of empty middle seats. If you do wait to buy until just before you fly, you’ll pay the incredibly steep fares business travelers are charged.

Myth: On the ground or in the air, your right to free speech is protected


The real story: Nope! Over the years, passengers have been removed from flights for everything from wearing T-shirts featuring explicit phrases to starting political arguments that get out of hand (and it should be noted that passengers across the political spectrum have been kicked off planes). The vast majority of folks just want to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible with the least amount of hassle, so let’s all play nice and avoid drama.