The Real Reason Why Airplane Windows Have Holes

Why are there tiny holes in airplane windows? We have the answers.

<p>Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images</p>

Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

Gazing out an airplane window when you're flying is a pretty spectacular thing, and unless you're a pilot or a flight attendant, you probably don't get to take in a bird's-eye view of clouds, mountains, or cities every day. Have you ever considered the pressure being exerted on that thin window pane separating you from the vastness of the sky?

Thankfully, the engineers who design aircraft account for all those physics-related questions to make planes a very safe form of transportation. That's why you might notice a tiny little hole in every airplane window. That hole, known as a bleed hole, is a crucial element in the structure because it helps to regulate air pressure.

Related: How Many Planes Are in the Air Right Now?

Air pressure and the amount of oxygen in the air decrease the higher you go above sea level. And low air pressure and limited oxygen aren't ideal for humans. That's why airplanes are pressurized — to keep us alive and comfortable throughout the journey.

"As the aircraft ascends during flight, air pressure drops within the cabin. However, aircraft are designed to maintain a safe air pressure inside the cabin for passenger comfort. As a result, while in flight, the air pressure outside an airplane is much lower than it is inside," an Airbus spokesperson tells Travel + Leisure.

Fortunately, airplanes have been meticulously designed and extensively tested over the decades, and rapid decompression resulting from a structural failure is a rare event thanks to safety features like airplane window design.

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

Perhaps unsurprisingly, windows are something of a weak spot on airplanes — they're made of acrylic, which isn't as strong as the various metals that typically make up the rest of the fuselage. (Though these days, some fuselages are made out of composites like carbon fiber.) Passengers probably wouldn't enjoy flying in airplanes without windows, and having an outside view in an emergency situation is crucial for evacuations, so rather than eliminating windows entirely, windows are designed to be as strong as possible.

That starts with the shape of the windows: Airplane windows are round because pressure is more evenly dispersed over a rounded shape. Then there's the bleed hole, which is designed to help alleviate some of the pressure exerted on the window.

"An airplane window actually has three panels: an outer pane to deal with the air pressure difference; a middle pane with the bleed hole, the tiny hole you see, which helps balance the air pressure; and a thin inner pane, also called a scratch pane, which helps protect the middle and outer pane from damage from airplane cabin activities," says the Airbus spokesperson. The bleed hole helps to balance the air pressure between the outer and middle panes.

So what would happen if one of those panes were to break? Fortunately, not much. "This scenario is extremely rare," says the Airbus spokesperson. "Both the outer and middle panes are structural, so there are two layers of redundancy. As such even if one of the layers were to be dislodged, the other pane could withstand the stress."

And if the inner pane, or scratch pane, were to break, absolutely nothing would happen at all, since it's just a scratch protector and not a structural element. "It could be scratched or come loose, but it will not impact the structural integrity of the window," says the Airbus spokesperson.

There's one more reason for the bleed hole — it releases moisture from the space between the panes, preventing fogging or frosting. So the next time you're up in the air taking photos out the plane window, you've got that little bleed hole to thank for keeping the acrylic as clear as possible and for keeping you safe and sound.

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