Fear of flying can be made worse by the noises that planes make - leaving nervous passengers
worrying whether the sounds are normal or something more sinister.
Now that more of us have the opportunity to take flights again after the scrapping of restrictions, we
take a look at noises aircraft make and if they're anything to be worried about when it comes to the
safety of the airliner.
Find out what those noises mean on a plane - and if they are
anything to worry about
Take a journey through the four stages of your flight, with our guide to the sounds of
PLANE NOISES WHILE BOARDING AND WAITING FOR TAKE-OFF
From boarding to pushing back from the stand and heading out to the runway - keep the anxiety
levels in check with this guide to noises and sounds coming from the plane.
1. Whirring noise as you board the plane
This is caused by the auxiliary power unit (APU) set in the plane's tail. It’s there to power to
the plane’s systems when the main engines are switched off. This is a normal sound to hear as you head to
your seat and wait to push back for your flight. You might also here a loud screaming sound or a muffled
roar, this will be from the plane’s air-conditioning packs.
Have a listen to the sound of an APU start up and run.
2. Bangs and vibrations felt beneath your seat as you wait for take-off
3. What is the sudden high-pitched whine just before the plane leaves the stand?
While this will sound alarming, the sound is a hydraulic pump beneath the wing in most planes. It tells
you that all the bags are loaded and the hold doors are being closed – meaning it shouldn’t be long before
your flight gets on the move.
4. What do all the ‘bings’ and ‘bongs’ in the cabin mean?
This is the internal phone system being used by the crew to report pre-flight checks back to the cabin
manager. The sheer amount of these sounds will put some passengers on edge, but it’s perfectly normal.
5. What are the ‘yelping’ sounds while we taxi?
If travelling on an Airbus aircraft, you have most likely noticed a sound known as the ‘barking dog’.
This is unique to Airbus planes and is caused by the aircraft’s three hydraulic systems being connected to
the Power Transfer Unit (PTU). Listen out for these sounds coming from beneath your feet while you taxi
out. Alarming, but completely normal for Airbus planes.
While many will be eagerly staring out of the window, eager to get the engines spooled and
wheels rolling, nervous flyers will be clenching their fists with anguish. Here's what you need to
know about aircraft sounds associated with take-off.
6. Thump-like noises on a plane as you speed down the runway
Any bump or thump will be worrying for nervous flyers, but this is most likely to be caused by the
plane’s wheels occasionally running over the runway’s central lights. Just think about when you’re in a
car that strays onto the Cats Eyes in the middle of the road. Noisy but harmless.
7. The engines sound different compared to the last time I flew
Depending on where you sit in the cabin, the engines will produce a different type of sound. Sit at the
front of the cabin and you’ll hear more of a whirring engine fan noise from the powerplants, sit behind
the wing and expect a roar from the exhaust end of business. Both perfectly normal.
8. We’re off the ground, but what’s that really loud noise of wind and whirring as we climb?
Take-off can be a stressful part of a flight for many of us and the loud noises that occur as the plane
climbs can cause concern. Fortunately, there’s no need to be worried, it’s simply the wheels being put
away for the flight. You may hear hydraulics winding-in the heavy landing gear, along with aerodynamic
noises as doors open to let the ‘gear’ retract. There might even be a bang as the mechanism and doors lock
into place. Listen out for a single chime in the cabin – this lets you know the landing gear is safely
retracted and locked.
PLANE NOISES DURING THE FLIGHT
Traditionally the most relaxed segment of the flight, but this doesn't mean there
aren't any noises to build anxiety. Find out what they mean here.
9. Why does the plane's engine noise decrease then suddenly increase? Is there a problem?
Don’t worry, the pilot hasn’t just realised he’s getting too low, it’s likely he or she is being told
to climb as part of air traffic control instructions. Again, this is completely normal and will vary
The frequent turns and changes in engine tone could also be made worse by complicated flight paths
designed to keep climbing planes away from local residents to help reduce noise levels.
10. It sounds like the plane's engines have just stopped!
Don’t worry, this is likely to be the captain throttling back the engines as he starts the craft's
descent. In many cases, this will involve setting the engines to idle for the best part of the descent.
The drop in power will drastically cut the engine noise and make it sound like they’ve stopped altogether.
This will also make sudden increases in power – to make turns, or level off, for example – sound even
more alarming. Don’t worry, it’s a normal day at the office for the pilots.
AIRCRAFT LANDING NOISES
Returning a plane back to the tarmac requires the crew's full attention, so don't
expect a running commentary from the cockpit. Unfortunately, not hearing the captain's reassuring
tones can build anxiety levels as a cacophony of sounds reverberate through the cabin. Here's what
11. Roars and bangs
As you make the final approach to land, the captain may employ air brakes, which create a dramatic and
potentially alarming increase in wind noise. Nervous flyers won’t like it, but there’s no need for
Next up, there’s likely to be a bang and whirring. Again, there’s no need to be alarmed this is simply
the landing gear doors opening and the wheels extending and locking into place.
12. More roars and the barking dog sound returns
After the plane lands, the pilot will deploy panels that come out of the wings to keep aircraft on the
ground and to help slow it down. The engines will also be switched to reverse thrust – signally and loud,
but completely normal roar. Don’t worry if it’s louder than usual, runways require different settings.
Airbus passengers should also expect to hear more from the ‘barking’ dog as the PTU balances the
See why reverse thrust causes such a roar on landing.
Pete Barden is a qualified journalist who has written and produced for publications including
The Sun (thesun.co.uk), New Statesman Media
Group, Whatcar? (Whatcar.com) Stuff Magazine (Stuff.tv), Fastcar Magazine (Fastcar.co.uk), Maxim
Magazine and UK broadcast stations within the Heart network (Formerly GCAP). Pete specialises in motoring and travel content, along with
news and production roles. You can find out more about Pete Barden