Why Does Your Seat Need to Be In an Upright Position During Takeoff and Landing?

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iStock

Landing is no one’s favorite part of a plane ride. Aside from the bumps and jolts, you have to interrupt your nap and put your seat-back into its rigid, straight-up position, which is comfortable for exactly no one. Like many quirks of air travel, the requirement has its roots in safety regulations. There are multiple reasons that flight attendants are insistent about your seat-back position during takeoff and landing, according to Condé Nast Traveler.

Airplane seats are the main source of protection for passengers during a crash, and the upright position is their locked position. In the event of a crash, the whiplash movement of a reclined seat poses a threat to both the passenger sitting in it and the passenger behind it. Plane seats are required to be able to withstand impacts 16 times the force of gravity in a crash, and safety standards like these are widely credited with making plane crashes far more survivable than they used to be. Given that your seat is the one padded thing between your butt and the ground you’re crashing into, you want it to be in its sturdiest position. When the seat isn’t secured in its upright position, you also can’t get into a proper brace position, which the FAA says is three times safer than staying sitting up during a crash.

Plus, putting seats in the upright position makes it significantly easier for the window and middle-seat passengers to exit the row in an emergency. New airplane models have to undergo a mock emergency evacuation before they're cleared to fly to prove that all passengers can get out in 90 seconds or less. It’s much harder to slither out into the aisle if the seats in front of you are reclined and blocking the path. This 90-second requirement has prompted some to question whether planes can still be evacuated quickly enough as legroom shrinks—in 2016, a Tennessee senator unsuccessfully proposed a law to establish a minimum seat pitch on planes (meaning the distance between a seat and the one behind it) on the grounds that there haven’t been safety tests on seats with a pitch of less than 29 inches. Most U.S. planes have a 31-inch pitch, but some, like those used by Spirit Airlines, are even more cramped.

Keeping seats upright during takeoff also makes the plane windows more visible to flight attendants, so that in the event of a crash, they can see out the window to assess whether there’s a fire or another hazard outside the plane. They need to be able to see quickly whether one wing is on fire, say, so that they can direct passengers to exit elsewhere.

Sure, the upright plane seat isn’t terribly comfortable, but those few inches really could save your life.

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Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?

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iStock/bonchan

The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

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Why Are Poinsettias Associated with Christmas?

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iStock

Certain Christmas traditions never seem to go out of style. Along with wreaths, gingerbread cookies, and reruns of A Christmas Story sits the poinsettia, a red-tinged leafy arrangement that’s become synonymous with the holiday. Upwards of 100 million of them are sold in the six weeks before December 25.

Why do people associate the potted plant with seasonal cheer? Chalk it up to some brilliant marketing.

In 1900, a German immigrant named Albert Ecke was planning to move his family to Fiji. Along the way, they became enamored of the beautiful sights found in Los Angeles—specifically, the wild-growing poinsettia, which was named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the U.S.-Mexican ambassador who first brought it to the States in 1828. Ecke saw the appeal of the plant’s bright red leaves that blossomed in winter (it’s not actually a flower, despite the common assumption) and began marketing it from roadside stands to local growers as "the Christmas plant."

The response was so strong that poinsettias became the Ecke family business, with their crop making up more than 90 percent of all poinsettias sold throughout most of the 20th century: Ecke, his son Paul, and Paul’s son, Paul Jr., offered a unique single-stem arrangement that stood up to shipping, which their competitors couldn’t duplicate. When Paul III took over the business in the 1960s, he began sending arrangements to television networks for use during their holiday specials. In a priceless bit of advertising, stars like Ronald Reagan, Dinah Shore, and Bob Hope were sharing screen time with the plant, leading millions of Americans to associate it with the holiday.

While the Ecke single-stem secret was eventually cracked by other florists—it involved grafting two stems to make one—and their market share dwindled, their innovative marketing ensured that the poinsettia would forever be linked to Christmas.

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