Hollywood movies tend to adore depicting people unlocking cabin doors during flight. But is it actually feasible? We are ‘open’ to exploring this topic.
Hollywood motion pictures frequently include people opening cabin doors while in flight. Typically, there is a battle as the wind rushes into the airplane. But can a door be opened while flying?
How a door opens and closes
The first thing to consider is that doors are eventually mechanically secured. The cabin crew locks the large door handles in place. Once all passengers have boarded, the cabin crew closes the aircraft’s doors, but there is still one more thing to do before the cabin is fully secured.
The flight attendants will perform a door check and declare “arm doors” or a phrase to that effect prior to gate pushback. Chris Pohl, a Virgin Atlantic Training Captain, previously provided the following information to Simple Flying regarding the circumstances:
“On the A350-1000, each of the eight cabin doors is controlled by a specific crew member, who is “cross-checked” by another crew member. When we start our pushback, the FSM (flight service manager) gives the arming instructions. As we turn onto our parking spot, the PM (Pilot Monitoring) signals that it is time to disable the doors.”
Therefore you might be able to open the door while lying on the ground. Yet, the situation is different in the air. There is constant pressure.
A pressurized aircraft’s doors cannot be opened once it is in the air. Pilots, flight attendants, and passengers are all subject to this. Why? simply because the cabin pressure prevents it.
Nobody can open them because the pressure inside the cabin is far too high. Up to eight pounds of pressure are exerted against each square inch of the interior fuselage at a typical cruising altitude. For every square foot of the door, that’s more than 1,100 pounds. The differential is still too great for anyone to overcome, even at lower altitudes.
Cabin doors resemble plugs because of their tapered design, which seals them when pressure is applied. Some doors swing outward but open first inward; others swing outward but retract upward into the ceiling.
But didn’t D.B. Cooper do it?
Legends are made of the infamous case of D.B. Cooper, who accomplished the astounding accomplishment of bailing off a Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 with a suitcase full of cash. His escape is still shrouded in so much mystery, but one thing is certain. He did not leave through a cabin door. That would have been much too challenging to do.
The unidentified burglar unlocked the 727’s back door and took flight down its steps. This is something that civilian flight crews were not aware was possible at the time. The design of the 727’s rear door underwent alterations as a result of Cooper’s nighttime sky-high bailout and other rumors and conspiracies, including a safety feature known as the “Cooper Vane.”
The workers and passengers have tried and tried again.
Aside from mysterious criminals, there have been numerous instances of passengers attempting to open doors during flights. They never succeeded and just managed to get themselves handcuffed. On the ground, there have been incidents involving passengers opening doors and even one or two frazzled flight attendants choosing to end their flights early in the security of a parked aircraft.
In a noteworthy mid-air incident between Nagpur and Mumbai earlier this year, an IndiGo passenger attempted to remove the emergency exit cover from an Airbus A321neo. Inadvertently opening the emergency exit of an IndiGo ATR aircraft in Chennai the month prior was Indian Member of Parliament Tejasvi Surya.
General accidents relating to doors have also occurred over the years. For instance, the second door of a British Airlines Boeing 777 was torn off at Cape Town in January 2022. According to reports, the jetbridge was still attached to the aircraft after it was pushed back. High-flying attempts to open cockpit doors may continue. Yet, any that are opened while in flight will be confined to Hollywood productions where the impossible is constantly made feasible.