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So… How Long Do Those Oxygen Masks Things Actually Last?

If anything has been drilled into me from all the pre-flight instructions I’ve received, it’s that if the oxygen mask falls down, I should place it over my head.  I should then tug to ensure the oxygen is flowing (though it won’t inflate).  After securing my own mask, I should help others around me secure their own.

Phew, that’s a lot to remember.

But what I learned is, first–the plane is not filled with oxygen reserves.  (I’ll pause to let that shock sink in).  When you breath in through the oxygen masks, you are tapping into a reserve of various chemicals that eventually mix to produce… oxygen.

flight attendant oxygen mask

Phew.

Problem #1 solved.

But I’m curious.  Once these masks are on, how much oxygen do they actually produce?

Turns out about fifteen minutes of oxygen.

Holy crap.

But it isn’t quite so scary.  The oxygen masks usually fall down when an emergency has occurred–the cabin pressure has changed, etc.  When something like that happens, the place is already looking to emergency land.

Within that fifteen minutes, the plane will be close to (or actually on) the ground, and regular breathing can resume.  Phew.  (literally and figuratively).

But if the airplane had to pull a Sharknado 3 and go to outer-space–well, I don’t think there would be enough oxygen on board in that case.

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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2 comments

  1. I have been told this about onboard oxygen for passengers:

    The 15 minute life of the oxygen generators is timed to let the pilot descend to 10,000 ft. (3000 m). At that altitude, a human can get enough oxygen just by breathing normally and the plane can continue indefinitely to a safe landing place.

    The bag does not inflate because there isn’t that much flow of oxygen. Since normal air is only 20% oxygen, and the oxygen generators produce 100%, you only need to breathe 1/5 the normal respiratory volume to be OK.

    The flight attendants have bottled oxygen, so they can move about the cabin to help passengers.

  2. Is it a similar System to what the military uses for diving long periods at a time?

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