What Happens if You Try to Open a Plane’s Door Mid-Flight

by SharonKurheg

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.

Do you know what happens when a person does that?

Not much.

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 actually 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 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 are excellent that you’d be safe. SHWEW!

Feature Photo (cropped): Christopher Doyle / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 2.0

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Peter December 6, 2019 - 7:55 pm

You forgot to mention, that the emergency slides would be deployed if the door is not “disarmed” before opening, if you can actually open it.

Christian December 6, 2019 - 9:59 pm

Another nice one. Any idea why cockpit windows ope, besides to pay tolls?

Jim Spurgeon December 13, 2019 - 12:46 pm

I knew an Eastern Airlines Captain who liked to open his sliding window while taxiing to the gate. He would close the window on a rubber chicken so it would be flapping in the breeze as he pulled up to the ramp at the arrival airport in full view of all passengers looking out the terminal windows. Needless to say management was not impressed by his antics.


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