Why Do People Try to Open Airplane Doors During Flights?S

A "tall, burly" and "unruly" passenger on a Houston-to-Chicago Continental flight scared the shit out of his fellow passengers after trying to open one of the airplane's front doors. Maybe he just wanted to know what would happen, if he did that.

What ended up happening was that the plane made an emergency landing in shrinking St. Louis, Missouri, and law enforcement took the man into custody. A Continental spokeswoman told the Chicago Tribune that there "was no indication that there was any terrorist threat"—but that's no consolation to fellow passenger and former Tribune reporter Sara Olkon:

"It felt very inevitable," said Olkon, who had just been reading articles in The New York Times about the death of Osama Bin Laden. "I started shaking and tears were coming out of my eyes. My heart was pounding through my chest."

Seems like the guy should have waited until after bin Laden news died down a bit before trying to open a plane door. Oh yeah, and he also might have considered never ever trying to open a plane door in the first place! This would have saved him the embarrassment of being taken into custody, and also the lawyer fees he'll probably have to spend. (Maybe he just wanted to get to know his lawyer better.)

"Oh my goodness, now what on God's green earth would possess someone to try and open up an airplane door during a flight like that?" you might ask, because you talk folksy. Well, all kinds of people try to open up airplane doors for all kinds of reasons. For example:

  • They are "immaculately poise[d]" but terribly anxious Playboy centerfold Tiffany Livingston, and do not enjoy turbulence very much
  • Because Satan shows up and tells them to blow up the plane, or something
  • Cuz they're motherfuckin' psycho...
  • ...Or simply "disturbed"
  • They're drunk and British and in need of fresh air
  • Just because

According to the likes of official airplane captain Meryl Getline, who knows about plane things, can't even open an airplane door mid-flight:

I'd like to reassure the traveling public that a passenger cannot open the door of a commercial airliner in flight. Why? For two reasons: First, cabin doors are generally "plug-type" doors. When closed, they are larger than the openings. You can push on a cabin door all you want, but it's not going to go through the smaller opening.
[...]

The other [reason] is that once power is added-meaning the pilots have advanced the throttles after all the doors are shut and they're starting to taxi-the cabin will start to pressurize.

Pressurization exerts a very strong force against the inside of the plane, sealing the doors shut and preventing them from being opened in flight. You can twist the handle and tug on it all you want, but it's impossible for a human, or even several humans, to overcome this pressure. Still, it's not recommended that you play with the door handle at any time as unauthorized tampering with aircraft equipment may result in arrest.

The Wisegeeks seem to second that, saying opening a door is "usually not in fact possible to open an airplane door during flight at normal cruising altitudes, despite what you may have seen in the movies." So stop watching movies, and stop trying to open up airplane doors, because all you're doing is making lawyers rich when you could be buying yourself something nice with all that money.

[Chicago Tribune, USA Today]