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How the world works when youre sitting on a plane

Level 2 l Intermediate
1 Warmer
How often do you travel by aeroplane? Do you enjoy the experience? Why? Why not?

2 Key words
Match the key words to the definitions. Then, find them in the article to read them in context. The section
numbers are given to help you.
sections 17
bow

cruising height

fluffy

plunges

scares

scattered

strapped in

vast

1. soft and light because it contains a lot of air _________________________


2. extremely large _________________________
3. a curved or arched shape _________________________
4. spread over a large area _________________________
5. how high a plane travels at a steady speed _________________________
6. quick falls from a high position _________________________
7. kept in place by a seatbelt _________________________
8. situations that make people suddenly feel worried or frightened about something
_________________________
sections 715
artificial

atmosphere

bland

jet streams

long-haul

altitude

solidify

tracking

9. the height of a thing above sea level _________________________


10. travelling a long distance, especially by air _________________________
11. not having a strong taste and, therefore, not very interesting to eat _________________________
12. powerful wind currents in the air above the Earth _________________________
13. the air round the Earth _________________________
14. caused or created as a result of human influence or action _________________________
15. a system that electronically follows something so that you always know where it is
_________________________
16. become solid and hard _________________________

3 Before reading
Discuss these questions before reading the article.
1. What is jet lag?

4. How do planes stay up in the air?

2. What is turbulence?

5. What is it possible to see from a plane window?

NEWS LESSONS / How the world works when youre sitting on a plane / Intermediate

Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

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3. Whats a time zone and what time zone do you live in?

How the world works when youre sitting on a plane

Level 2 l Intermediate

2 On cloud nine
Most of us are happy to call clouds fluffy ones
or nasty black ones, but meteorologists identify
more than 50 cloud types. These fit into categories
given the numbers one to nine. Cloud nine is the
vast, tall cumulonimbus, so to be on cloud nine
means that you are on top of the world.
3 Around the rainbow
Theres no better place to see a rainbow than from
a plane. Rainbows are produced when sunlight
hits raindrops. We see a bow because the Earth
gets in the way, but, from a plane, a rainbow is a
complete circle.
4 Mr blue sky
Sunlight is white, containing all the colours of the
spectrum, but, as it passes through air, some of
the light is scattered when it interacts with the gas
molecules. Blue light scatters more than the lowerenergy colours, so the blue looks like it comes
from the sky.
5 Theres life out there
Apart from clouds and other planes, we dont
expect to see much directly outside a flying
aircrafts window, but the air is full of bacterial life
as many as 1,800 different types of bacteria have
been detected over cities and they can reach twice
the cruising height of a plane.
6 Turbulence terror
Turbulence can make even the most experienced
flyer turn green. The violent movements of air can
cause anything from repeated bumping to sudden,
dramatic plunges. The good news for nervous
flyers is that no modern airliner has ever been
brought down by turbulence. People have been
injured and occasionally killed when they are not
strapped in, or get hit by falling luggage but the
plane is not going to fall out of the sky.

9 Supersonic 747s
Many of us have travelled faster than sound.
There are a number of jet streams in the upper
atmosphere, especially on the journey from the US
to Europe, where a temperature inversion causes
a stream of air to move as fast as 250 miles per
hour. If an airliner with an airspeed of 550mph
enters a jet stream, the result can be that it flies at
800mph, faster than the speed of sound.
10 Flying through time
Time zones provide an artificial journey through
time but special relativity means that a flight
involves actual time travel. However, its so
minimal that crossing the Atlantic weekly for 40
years would only move you 1/1,000th of a second
into the future.
11 Terrible tea
Dont blame the cabin attendant if your tea isnt
great. Water should be just under 100C when it is
poured on to tea leaves but that isnt possible on
a plane. Its impossible to get water beyond 90C
during flight so choose coffee.
12 I cant hear my food
Airline food is often said to be bland and tasteless.
Some of the problem may not be poor catering,
though. A plane is a noisy place and food loses
some of its taste when we are surrounded by
loud noises.
13 Needle in a haystack
With modern technology, it seems strange that
Malaysian flight MH370 could disappear but
finding a missing aircraft is a needle-in-a-haystack
problem. The plane knows where it is but this
information is not sent elsewhere in real time. That
would be possible. Ships have had tracking since
the 1980s the problem is not technology but that
there is no law saying that it is required.

Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014


NEWS LESSONS / How the world works when youre sitting on a plane / Intermediate

1 Passing clouds
One of the pleasures of flying is seeing clouds
close up. Even though they seem to be light, they
carry a lot of water around 500 tonnes in a small
cloud. And water is heavier than air. So why dont
clouds fall out of the sky like rain? They do, but
they take a very long time. An average cloud would
take a year to fall one metre.

8 You cant cure jet lag


The world is divided into time zones. The result is
that long-haul travel results in a difference between
local time and your bodys time, causing jet lag.
However, its effects can be reduced by keeping
food bland for 24 hours before travel, drinking
plenty of fluids and living on your destination time
from the moment you reach the aircraft.

Its the best place to see a rainbow and the worst


place to drink tea Brian Clegg tells us some
surprising plane facts
Brian Clegg
6 July, 2014

7 In-flight radiation
When body scanners were introduced at airports,
there were radiation scares, but the level produced
by the scanners is the same as passengers
receive in one minute of flight. The Earth is
constantly hit by cosmic rays, natural radiation
from space that is stronger at altitude.

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In-flight science: how the world


works when youre sitting on a plane

How the world works when youre sitting on a plane

Level 2 l Intermediate
14 Volcanic fallout
Air travel can be cancelled by volcanic activity.
Glass-like ash particles melt in the heat of the
engine, then solidify on the rotors. Cancelling all
flights in an ash cloud may be inconvenient but
the risks of ignoring the ash are clear.
15 The wing myth
For many years, we taught the wrong explanation
for the way wings keep planes in the air. In fact,

almost all a planes lift comes from Newtons


Third Law of Motion. The wing is shaped to push
air downwards. As the air is pushed down, the
wing gets an equal and opposite push upwards,
lifting the plane.
Guardian News and Media 2014
First published in The Guardian, 06/07/14

4 Comprehension check
Discuss the answers to these questions without looking back at the article. What else can you remember?
1. What effect does a jet stream have?
2. How can a volcano cause a plane to crash?
3. What shape is a rainbow?
4. Why does coffee taste better than tea on a flight?
5. Which law of physics explains why wings keep planes in the air?
6. What are the main dangers connected with turbulence?
7. How can you minimize the effects of jet lag?
8. What colour is sunlight and why is the sky blue?
9. How many types of clouds are there and how many categories are they divided into?
10. Why dont clouds fall out of the sky?

5 Expressions
Reorder the words below to make two expressions from the article. Use them to complete the sentences below.

a
cloud on
a
in nine

haystack

needle

1. Mario Goetze was ______ _______________ _______________ after he scored the winning goal in the World
Cup final.
2. Trying to spot my brother in the crowd was like looking for ______ _______________ ______ ______
_______________.

NEWS LESSONS / How the world works when youre sitting on a plane / Intermediate

Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

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Talk about the meanings of the two expressions. Are there similar expressions in your language?

How the world works when youre sitting on a plane

Level 2 l Intermediate
6 Word clouds
Write all the words from the article that are connected with the three categories below.

other words for aeroplane

parts of an aeroplane

weather words

7 Discussion
a. Complete one of the sentences.

My best / worst flying experience was ___________________________________________________________.

I remember when I was flying from _____________________________ to _____________________________,


__________________________________________________________________________________________.

Ill never forget the flight from _______________________________ to ________________________________.

If I could fly anywhere in the world, Id go to _____________________________ because _________________


__________________________________________________________________________________________.

b. Read out what you have written to your classmates. Find out how their stories continue.

8 Webquest

NEWS LESSONS / How the world works when youre sitting on a plane / Intermediate

Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

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Search for images of rainbows and clouds taken from a plane. Choose your favourite and explain what you
can see in it and why you like it.

How the world works when youre sitting on a plane

Level 2 l Intermediate
KEY
2 Key words
1. fluffy
2. vast
3. bow
4. scattered
5. cruising height
6. plunges
7. strapped in
8. scares
9. altitude
10. long-haul
11. bland
12. jet streams
13. atmosphere
14. artificial
15. tracking
16. solidify

3. From the ground, we see a bow. From a plane, we


see a complete circle.
4. because water should be just under 100C when it
is poured on to tea leaves, which isnt possible on
a plane
5. Newtons Third Law of Motion
6. You can be injured or killed if you are not strapped
in or get hit by poorly secured luggage.
7. Keep food bland for 24 hours before travel, drink
plenty of fluids and live on your destination time
from the moment you reach the aircraft.
8. Sunlight is white. Blue light scatters more than the
lower-energy colours, so the blue appears to come
from the sky.
9. There are 50 cloud types and nine categories.
10. They do but they take a very long time.

5 Expressions

3 Before reading

1. on cloud nine
2. a needle in a haystack

Teachers note: Answers are given for your reference,


although students should be encouraged to attempt
their own definitions. They will be able to check their
answers in the text.

6 Word clouds

1. the feeling of being very tired and sometimes


confused because you have travelled quickly on a
plane across parts of the world where the time
is different
2. sudden, violent movements of air
3. one of the areas that the world is divided into for
measuring time
4. The wing is shaped to push air downwards. As the
air is pushed down, the wing gets an equal and
opposite push upwards, lifting the plane.
5. Students own answers.

Teachers note: Extend this task by asking students to


add more words (ones not found in the article) to each
of the word clouds.

4 Comprehension check
Teachers note: You could turn this into a team quiz.

other words for aeroplane aircraft, airliner, plane


parts of a plane window, rotors, wing, cabin, engine
weather words rainbow, clouds, rain, cumulonimbus,
raindrops, sunlight, jet stream

8 Webquest
Teachers note: British Airways has an interesting
selection of cloud photos taken by passengers,
complete with captions.
http://businesslife.ba.com/News-and-Blogs/
Cloudbank/Your-inspirational-cloud-photos.html

NEWS LESSONS / How the world works when youre sitting on a plane / Intermediate

Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

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1. Air moves really fast so it can allow a plane to


travel faster than the speed of sound.
2. Glass-like ash particles melt in the heat of the
engine, then solidify on the rotors.