When you’re on a plane and the flight is just ready to begin, you’ll see and hear a few things:
- the flight attendants close the doors of the plane
- the aircraft starts to push back from the terminal
- you’ll hear one of the flight attendants say “Cabin crew arm doors and cross check.”
After that latter one, flight attendants who are stationed at the emergency exits throughout the cabin will then activate the emergency slide by pushing a lever on the door. The door is now armed. That means if it’s opened the emergency slide will deploy and inflate (if that happens, it happens really fast and looks like this).
If you happen to be on a Boeing 737, and a few other types of planes, the cabin crew may also position a strip of red or orange tape diagonally across the window above the emergency slide. It’ll look something like this:
The box you can see on the bottom of the door on the photo above is the emergency slide.
If there’s an emergency, the tape across the window is a sign to anyone approaching the aircraft from outside, say a firefighter or any other emergency worker, that the door is still armed. If they tried to open an armed door, the slide would automatically deploy (and could hurt the emergency personnel in the process). So the tape tells emergency workers to attempt to enter the plane from a different entrance.
If the flight attendants have been able to disarm the door, they do so, and put the tape in its original position, above the door.
Every aircraft has some method of warning those outside when a door is armed. However more modern aircraft have improved upon the 737 warning system. To that end, on Boeing 757s, 767s, and 777s, as well as MD11s, E-Jets and all Airbus planes, if emergency workers try to open the door externally, it will automatically push the arm handle to the disarmed position before proceeding to open it.
But if you’re on a 737, they still use the red tape technique.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary