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11 Things You Didn't Know about Flying

Does the age of the airplane matter? Why are there still ashtrays on planes?

There's a lot of misinformation flying around when it comes to air travel. To find the best deals and make the most of your travel experience, it pays off to be well-informed. Here are some of our favorite commonly asked questions—and the sometimes surprising answers.

1. Travel Websites and Search Engines Don't Always Show the Best Deal
Not necessarily. Since airlines have to pay a service fee to search engines like Orbitz, Expedia, or Travelocity, many are loathe to list their flights outside of their own websites. You will not see low-fare airlines like Southwest or Allegiant appear on these sites; they only sell tickets on their own sites to better control distribution. It pays to know which airlines fly a certain route so you’re not missing out on a bargain deal that is not being displayed.

2. Multiple Flight Searches May Drive Up Your Fare
Why does airfare seem to jump up when doing multiple searches? Watch out for “cookies” on your computer, which can store information about your search patterns. This could possibly affect the results you get from some websites, which monitor how long you have been trying to look for your flight. Be sure to clear cookies when searching for airfare to avoid being subjected to these variations, or use a separate web browser (or mobile device) to compare prices to make sure the results are the same.

3. Not All Airlines Offer Free Gate Check
Checked bag fees are here to stay, but what about outrageous carry-on bag fees? Airlines like Spirit tout the fact that they charge you $100 to check a carry-on bag at the gate if it's too big. Known for its low fares and nickel-and-diming, Spirit is trying to encourage people not to sneak a large bag past security since any resulting delay can cause a ripple effect delaying later flights. Airlines make money when planes are in the air, so delays steal big bucks from the bottom line. While some carriers check bags for free at the gate, beware companies like Spirit, Allegiant, and Ryanair that could impose larger-than-normal fees if a bag needs to be checked at the gate.

4. Yes, Pilots Can Get Sick in-Flight
What happens if a pilot gets sick inflight? While uncommon, pilots follow some procedures to minimize this risk. For example, pilots often eat different meals inflight (in case of food poisoning) and on longer flights, relief pilots travel aboard to allow one person to take rest breaks while two remain in the cockpit (that’s why you might see a pilot snoozing next to you from time to time).

5. The Best Use for Frequent Flier Miles Might Not Be Flights
Are frequent flier miles useless if I don’t have enough for a free trip? Consider using your miles for a free hotel stay or magazine subscriptions instead. These can be purchased through most airline websites. Miles can expire—often after 18 months of no activity in your account—and a great way to keep your points balance alive, as well as save money, is to redeem them for other things. No matter how often you fly, be sure to sign up for an airline’s loyalty program. Even small mileage balances are worth something.

6. What Actually What Happens to Bathroom Stuff
What happens to lavatory contents? That whooshing sound in the loo is not the sound of waste being dispensed over unfortunate communities below. Instead, the unsavory bits are vacuum sucked into an aircraft tank and combined with a fluid that breaks them down. It is then discarded from the aircraft upon landing.

7. An Airplane's Age Doesn't Really Matter
Does it matter how old my airplane is? Age is always relative, but aircraft are designed for long life cycles as long as they are maintained on a regular basis. While they may guzzle more gas and be less environmentally friendly as newer technology is introduced, it does not mean that they are any less safe. An airline’s overall record is a better indicator of safety than its average fleet age.

Why do you have to put your seat forward on takeoff and landing? Keep reading.

8. You Could Have a Weather Delay When It's Sunny
If the weather is fine at my airport, why is the plane delayed due to weather? It’s important to understand the complete grid of airline travel with planes flying between various cities each day: A weather delay at one airport could cause a ripple throughout the rest of the network. So, a delay in Pittsburgh could be caused by weather in Houston, for example.

9. When the Weather's Bad, Airlines Don't Owe You Anything
Am I due any compensation for a weather delay? Not for weather or air-traffic control issues that are outside of the airline’s control. But, if it’s a maintenance or crew issue that's due to the airline’s own operation, then customers are entitled to things like food, water, overnight hotel, and possibly a refund if passengers want to cancel. But, if weather played any type of issue in the delay, then you’re out of luck.

10. The Ashtrays in the Bathroom Actually Serve a Purpose
If flights are nonsmoking, why are there ashtrays on board? The FAA requires there be a safe place to extinguish a cigarette should someone choose to disobey rules and light up inflight.

11. "Seat Forward, Tray Tables Up" Is a Real Safety Measure
Why must my seat be forward for takeoff and landing? While it may seem like an inch or two makes no difference, it can, both for you and the person sitting behind you. In an emergency, even a slightly reclined seat can hinder someone’s exit or ability to assume the brace position if seated behind it. Also, it is dangerous for the person sitting in it since there is a greater force on the body in a sudden stop.

>>Next: Why Your Frequent Flyer Program Just Got More Complicated