Frontier Flight Delayed After Passenger Steals Exit Sign

Safety concerns delayed a Frontier Airlines A320 for six hours at Trenton airport, New Jersey on Sunday 5th May. The delay is believed to have been caused by the theft of an emergency exit sign.

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Frontier Airlines on-board exit sign stolen. Photo: Frontier Airlines

According to Gary Leff of View from the Wing, crew members aboard Flight 827 realised the exit sign was missing and informed the captain. The flight’s departure was postponed in accordance with the airline’s safety protocol.

Some passengers suggested someone had stolen the sign, but such a rumour cannot be verified.

Six hour delay

A police officer on board had offered to sit beside the emergency exit holding a flashlight for the duration of the flight. But the officer’s suggestion was ignored, reports Leff.

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The flight bound for Charleston, South Carolina was delayed for six hours to enable a maintenance team to replace the missing sign. Neither Frontier Airlines nor Trenton airport has commented on the incident.

With no further information forthcoming, observers are puzzled by the apparent over-reaction of the Frontier flight crew. However, correct and working exit signage is a safety prerequisite of flights regulated by the FAA, CAA and EASA.

Exit sign protocol

In their safety detail of airworthiness the EASA states aircraft compliance. It advises that there should be no more than 60 feet between emergency exits if one exit has been ‘deactivated’.


  • Each passenger emergency exit, its means of access, and its means of opening are conspicuously marked.
  • Means are provided to assist the occupants in locating the exits in conditions of dense smoke.
  • The location of each passenger emergency exit is indicated by a sign visible to occupants approaching along the main passenger aisle (or aisles).
Frontier Airlines
Exit signs part of airworthiness compliance. Photo: Frontier Airlines.

The EASA also outlines an airline’s obligation to provide an exit locator sign above the aisle beside each emergency exit. One sign can serve two exit doors as long as each exit is visible from the sign.


It is not yet clear whether the plane’s other exit signs adequately compensated for the missing one. Nevertheless, some commentators have questioned the wisdom of delaying the flight due to a single missing sign.

Furthermore, the incident raises the question of how a passenger was able to ‘steal’ a sign without anyone noticing.

Frontier airlines tail fin
Passengers’ safety uncompromisingly paramount. Photo: Frontier Airlines.

Exit signs are considered one of the primary means of informing airline passengers of their escape route. In the event of an accident all of the cabin exit signs are required by law to be lit and clearly visible.

Emergency signs must also be visible from a distance of no more than the width of the cabin. Exit signs on airlines will either show the word ‘EXIT’ or will show the symbol of a green man running.

The lack of a sign could theoretically pose a safety risk to passengers. Consequently this would lead to a grounding of flights.

Unusual causes of delays

Delays caused by unusual happenings are not uncommon to the aviation industry.

In 2013, Jet2 cancelled a flight from Turkey to Manchester. According to Stevie Beer for The Express, a spokesman at the time said the aircraft had spent too long in the sun. In July 2016 a plane landing at Rio Negro had to go around after the pilot spotted a man on the runway smoking a cigarette.

Frontier Airlines is yet to publicly comment on this recent incident.

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