You see headlines about it every couple of months:
“Man tries to open plane door in mid-air after suffering a panic attack”
“Suicidal Delta passenger tries to open plane door during mid-flight”
“Ryanair passenger tries to open plane door mid-flight: ‘I will kill every one of you'”
“Woman detained after opening plane emergency exit door because she needed a ‘breath of fresh air'”
Whether it’s someone who’s claustrophobic, suicidal, homicidal, or just not very smart, invariably someone will try to open their plane’s door while they’re mid-flight.
You know what happens when a person does that?
Welllll, a whole lot happens INSIDE the plane – potential door openers have been tackled, pulled away, beaten up, hit over the head with a bottle or two of wine, zip-tied and even brought up on charges and sent to jail.
But the chances of an airplane door being opened mid-flight are really, really small. How come? Because at cruise altitude, assuming everything is in working order, the typical exit hatch has roughly 3 or tons of pressure holding it in place. You’d have to be REALLY strong to make it budge. Like, superhero strong.
Airline doors are designed pretty ingeniously, with some excellent engineering. When closing, the door first swings inside the cabin and then nestles outwardly into a frame. As soon as the plane leaves the ground, the pressure inside becomes larger and larger than what’s outside. That inside pressure trying to go outwardly causes the door to nestle more and more into its frame, and it quickly becomes a plug. In fact, they’re even called “plug doors.”
So yeah, assuming the plane was high enough in the air and, again, everything was in working order, someone could try to open the door, but they wouldn’t be successful because of the physics involved. No one would be able to exert enough force on the door handle to overcome the cabin pressure and open the door.
That being said, if a plane isn’t at cruising altitude yet, there’s a chance that not enough pressure would have built up and someone who’s strong enough probably would be able to open the door.
Then, as per the BBC, “If the door were opened, there may be a small drop in cabin pressure, but because of the plane’s low altitude, this probably would not even be enough to trigger the deployment of oxygen masks. It would get very windy, noisy, and would slowly get quite cold (though no colder than about 0°C/31°F).
“The pilot would see a door open alarm and cabin pressure alarm – and probably hear that something has gone very wrong.
“The pilot would declare an emergency, and would immediately begin an emergency descent (to reduce the cabin pressure difference).”
So even then, yeah, with today’s planes, chances excellent that you’d be safe. SHWEW!
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary