Although passenger planes operate anywhere from 31,000 to 38,000 feet during flight, the relative elevation within the cabin in regards to pressure is nowhere near that level. As anyone who has travelled up a mountainside too quickly can attest to, altitude sickness is never pleasant. Altitude sickness is often caused by rapid ascension, and it can result in discomfort and sickness, especially at elevations higher than 8,000 feet. This is why most passenger planes operate with a cabin pressure that is at or below pressure experienced at 8,000 feet, as well as ensure that this level is slowly and gradually reached for the comfort and safety of passengers.
When travelling at high altitudes, it is important that ample oxygen and air pressure is supplied for passengers and crew to be healthy and as comfortable as possible. For lungs to properly obtain oxygen from the air, the pressure outside must be higher than that inside the lungs for proper oxygen permeation. The higher you go, the lower the air pressure, thus aircraft pressure systems ensure that proper levels are constantly maintained. As any higher would cause detrimental effects on humans, aircraft balance these levels as to provide comfort and ensure that the pressure difference inside and outside the fuselage is not too great which may cause strain on components.
Although pressure problems are extremely uncommon, there are procedures that are set in place to ensure that the pilots and crew can be kept safe in case of an emergency. If a hole or puncture is caused and a loss of pressurization results, an oxygen mask is deployed that can provide a pressurized oxygen supply. This gives pilots the time to bring the aircraft down to a safe elevation around 10,000 feet or lower for better breathing and operation. Modern aircraft often also have pressurized oxygen tanks in the cockpit to allow for pilots to have ample time to descend.
Different planes have also been experimenting with the ability to push the cabin pressure lower. The Boeing Dreamliner and Airbus A380 have both achieved levels around 6,000 feet of pressure. Some business aircraft have even reached levels that are 4,000 feet of pressure, and others at sea level. As technology improves, passenger plane cabin pressure may be gradually lowered to levels that are very comfortable for humans, along with other safety features.
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