The truth about oxygen masks on planes

Kristine Tarbert

Although it’s not something many of us have actually experienced, we all know about oxygen masks on planes.

‘In the case of a loss of oxygen at altitude a mask will drop down from above. Pull down on the mask firmly and put it on quickly ensuring the strap is tight. Oxygen will flow even if the bag doesn’t inflate. Make sure your own mask is fitted properly before helping others.’

Sound familiar right?

Everyone knows the demo of oxygen masks. Photo: Getty

Well despite what some conspiracy theorists think – ie that they are only there as a way to intoxicate passengers if the plane is going down – they are actually there for your safety.

It’s all to do with the cabin pressure because at high altitude, oxygen levels are very low.

So aircraft have systems in place to keep the pressure at the level of about 5,000 – 8,000 ft.

It's all to do with cabin pressure. Photo: Getty

It is potentially dangerous should the cabin suddenly lose pressure – think blocked ears only ten times worse – but even more so if it happens suddenly which could destroy the plane.

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Though as a flight attendant explains most cases of depressurisation aren’t that severe.

Most cases aren't severe. Photo: Getty

“Crashes or fatalities from pressure problems are extremely uncommon, even with a fairly rapid decompression brought on by a hole or puncture,” Patrick Smith, a pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential, tells the Telegraph UK.

“If cabin pressure falls below a certain threshold, the masks will deploy from the ceiling, exposing everybody to the so-called ‘rubber jungle’. Should you be confronted by this spectacle, strap your mask on and try to relax. The plane will be at a safe altitude shortly, and there are several minutes of backup oxygen for everybody.”

Wait… several minutes? That’s definitely less than expected.

Be recently spoke to an Aussie pilot that had this exact situation unfold – luckily there were no passengers on board at the time. And he explained why the oxygen only needs to last a few minutes.

“We had to make a rapid decent,” the pilot tells us.

Oxygen masks only have minutes of air to last a rapid decent. Photo: Getty

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