Any truth to Air Companies wanting to ease your final moment?

I was watching Fightclub when Tyler Durbin said that the only reason they put Air Masks on airplanes is to get you high and euphoric when you are about to die.

Any truth to that? Just coincidence?

What, you think they pump nitrous oxide through the masks or something? Suppose there was a situation where the masks deployed but the plane didn’t crash. If the masks had drugs in them and someone suffered a nasty side effect because of it, there would be hell to pay.

It’s a weird moment in the movie. Tyler’s line is as follows (assuming IMDb has its quotes right):

The narrator doesn’t seem to believe him, and it’s so odd that I’m not sure it’s supposed to be true. ‘Planes sometimes lose pressure and need to get oxygen to their passengers’ is just a touch more plausible.

right, but doesn’t pure 02 mess with your head? Isn’t that whats in those air tanks?

I’m not sure if that’s what’s in the tanks, and there are variables either way. I don’t know how much oxygen it takes to mess with your head, and I don’t know about the dose you get from the tanks, for example. Even if it’s pure oxygen, that doesn’t really support Tyler’s theory. Anyway- we have pilots and other people who’ve worked on planes around here, and I’m sure somebody will be able to explain this in time.

It’s probably just regular air, MAYBE slightly enriched air - but probably not straight o2.

As a scuba diver, I know that you’d have to breathe straight o2 for long time (like hours) at sea level before any toxicity concerns pop up. When we do decompression dives, we regularly breathe 100% o2 for 45min - 1 hour with no ill effects.

At any rate, you’d probably have to breathe on it longer than it would take to drop a plane out of the sky.

And o2 doesn’t make you euphoric, it actually sharpens your senses and makes you more alert and energetic.

LACK of o2 would make you euphoric, and sleepy. At 40,000 feet, ifyou lose your atmosphere, you probably only have a minute or two to put the mask on before you pass out.


It is oxygen, and its purpose is to keep you conscious until we can get down to 14,000’ at which time you can take it off. You only need it if the aircraft has a pressurisation fault, and normally that is not something that is going to cause the aircraft to crash anyway (unless it’s caused by a bomb or something, then we might be in trouble.)

It’s the same stuff we breath up the front and most certainly doesn’t get you high, or it wouldn’t be much good for us would it?

100% oxygen doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting a high volume of oxygen. At high altitudes, with low ambient pressure, you can be breathing 100% oxygen and not get any from your lungs to your blood. This is because the pressure of the oxygen is not sufficient for your lungs to work properly.

If the aircraft is unpressurised, above 33,700’ you must have 100% oxygen or you’ll start getting hypoxic (lack of O2 to the brain). Above around 40,000 you need to breath 100% oxygen under a positive pressure as the ambient pressure at that height is not enough to get the oxygen from your lungs to your blood.

With the company I work for, we don’t carry passengers often but we do have a couple of crew members down the back. Our oxygen system is not the drop down type you see in larger aircraft. The purpose of it is the same though. The oxygen we have for the crew in the cabin is the same as what would be installed in the aircraft when it is set up for passengers.

It is a trickle flow type which gives you little oxygen at 10,000’, because you don’t need it, and increases the supply as the pressure altitude gets higher. The oxygen is mixed with ambient air and I don’t think it can ever give you 100%

The oxygen masks we have up the front are a bit more complicated, they can be set to give 100% oxygen, to give a demand supply where it increase the O2 with altitude, or to give 100% under pressure. For us we’d mainly use the O2 under pressure if there is smoke in the cockpit as the positive pressure will keep our smoke goggles clear and stop any smoke getting into the mask.

We normally have the pilot’s masks set for 100% oxygen, then after we put them on, we can change it to the demand supply. The ONLY reason we don’t use 100% all the time is because it wastes oxygen. Not because it gets you high or anything.

Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, used a number of urban legends, rumors, and sensational-but-false popular beliefs in the book and screenplay. The nefarious purpose of oxygen masks was one of these.

As Death Ray says, it’s pure oxygen. On passenger jets, they use oxygen generators - small devices that chemically produce oxygen, rather than storing big heavy pressurized cylinders of oxygen or plain “room” air.

Not that the generators are perfectly safe - improperly loaded generators caused the ValuJet crash ten years ago.

Yah, I thought he was just making fun of the pamphlets with this one - remember how later, they replace them with new ones where the people are screaming and crying as the plane goes down?

That doesn’t make sense on it’s very face.

The oxygen masks drop down when the plane is up high and pressurization fails, so the occupants would be short on oxygen.

If the plane is about to make an “Emergency water landing - 600 miles an hour”, they are NOT high up, and the normal sea-level air would be fine to breath. There would be nothing to trigger the oxygen masks to drop down.

So that whole thing is obviously made up for the movie. Nothing new about that!

The very long pdf report of the Valujet crash includes a description of how the oxygen cannisters work (a chemical reaction) and what they put out (oxygen).

I believe, from memory, that those oxygen generators were being carried as cargo, they were not the ones fitted to the aircraft. The engineers who signed off the dangerous goods paper work failed to realise that the generators were full. They also didn’t have safety pins in place to prevent accidental discharge. When one or more of them discharged in the cargo area, the heat generated caused a fire. If they had discharged while fitted in their normal position on the aircraft, there would have been no fire because they are designed to be there.

In fact you have 2 or 3 seconds. So in cases of explosive decompression at altitude, it is rare that anyone remains conscious. Sometimes a plane can fly for hours with everyone on board unconscious, before it runs out of fuel.

It’s more like 20 seconds at 40,000’, but in any case, it is not long.

I don’t believe it’s accurate to say that you will not get any oxygen into your blood - even at very low ambient pressures, with 100% oxygen in your lungs some exchange will take place.

It is certainly true that if you go high enough, blood oxygenation will be insufficient.

Yes, it’s related to the pressure of the air so less pressure means less oxygen entering the blood stream, but you’re right, if there is some pressure, then there will be some oxygen, just not enough.

I think the whole idea behind the “breathing pure oxygen gets you high” myth is that people think “When I hyperventilate, I feel like I’m all whacked out on goofballs, and that’s clearly because more oxygen is getting to my brain! So breathing pure oxygen should give me the same giddy feeling!” Alas…

I remember believing the “breathing pure oxygen gets you high” myth back when I was a kid. Several shopping malls in our area had started “oxygen bars,” little kiosks where you could strap on a mask and breathe straight oxygen (scented with a wide variety of “flavors,” like mint or pine or vanilla or whatever) for a dollar a minute or some such ridiculous price. Lots of my school chums were under the impression that it would give them a buzz, which meant there were a lot of disappointed kids at my school who had shelled out five bucks to sit on a beanbag with a mask strapped to their face so they could feel the wonderful sensation of … breathing.

Oh, and on a related note, around that same time (maybe 7th or 8th grade?), my friend Matt and I were playing in my parents’ garage one day, and we found a tank of oxygen (part of a cutting torch – the other tank was full of acetylene, I think). Matt wanted to try breathing the pure oxygen from the tank because he hypothesized that, since regular air is only 20% oxygen, he would be able to hold his breath five times longer if his lungs were full of 100% oxygen. I mumbled something about having read in a Larry Niven story that the “I need to stop holding my breath and breathe NOW!!!” sensation is caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide, not a depletion of oxygen, and since carbon dioxide would still be building up, I didn’t think it would work. We didn’t get to find out, though, since he put his mouth over the nozzle of the tank and cranked the valve open, instantly rupturing both lungs in a hideous fashion and … okay, no, we were just too grossed out by the greasy dirt-coated nozzle to try breathing from it, but the first version makes for a much more dramatic ending.

Didn’t that situation happen recently, like in Cyrpus or Greece or something like that?

Helios Flight 522.