Flight secrets: The shocking truth about emergency oxygen masks – they only last this long

Travelling by plane comes with its own set of risks, and while these occurrences tend to be few and far between, the crew on board are instructed to perform a safety demonstration at the beginning of every journey. This is most likely the only time passengers have seen one of the elusive yellow oxygen masks. However, should the cabin run into an air pressure issue, these masks could be the lifeline you need – but it’s a race against the clock.


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Oxygen masks are installed in planes and are usually stored above passenger’s heads in hidden panels.

Should the flight run into an oxygen-related emergency, such as the cabin losing pressure, the oxygen masks will automatically be released and drop down to be used by travellers.

Tanks of oxygen are stored in the underbelly of the plane, ready to provide those on board with the air to breathe.

“If the aircraft cabin loses pressure, the panel above your seat containing oxygen masks will open automatically,” inflight safety instructions state.

“While remaining in your seat, quickly reach for the nearest mask and pull down firmly to start the flow of oxygen.”

Meanwhile, it is the captain’s job to descend the plane safely to a level where breathable air can be accessed – an arranged emergency landing at the closest airport soon follows.

However, while you may think these oxygen masks last for a limitless time, the reality is far different.

It seems the pilot is actually in a race against the clock – speeding to find a safe flight path before the oxygen on board runs out.

Most airliners are pressurised at an altitude of 5,000 to 8,000 feet.

However, if the cabin air pressure system fails, the personal oxygen masks provide a back up using chemical oxygen stored above seats.

Shockingly, however, it seems these tanks don’t last as long as one might hope.

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In fact, the chemical oxygen tanks only last an average of 15 minutes.

They range anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes in total.

The rate at which oxygen is used up from the tanks largely depends on how fast the user breathes.

However, the good news is there is no need to panic.


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Pilots are trained professionals and are able to act with speed in these circumstances.

Air Force flight surgeon Dr Gregory Pinnell told the Huffington Post: “Pilots can get down much more quickly than it takes to run out of oxygen; they know the situation.”

Although the descent may feel like a sudden drop, the plane is unlikely to crash as pilots only descend to 10,000ft.

From here breathable air can be accessed safely without the need for the oxygen masks.

Recently, a cabin crew member also made a shock revelation that passengers could be flying on a broken aircraft without even realising.

They explained: “There is a large list of things that can be broken but the aircraft can still fly.”

Indeed anything from electrical systems to parts of the wing can be out of use and yet planes can still safely take flight.

“There’s still tests and paperwork that have to be done for any maintenance issue, and that takes time,” they explained.

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