The other day, a suicidal passenger tried to open a door on a Republic Airways flight. The young woman attempted to open an exit door on the Embraer ERJ-175 as the aircraft was descending into New York‘s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) screaming that she needed to open the door and die. She did not succeed. That leaves us with the question, why can you not open an airplane door in flight?
Why can you not open an airplane door in flight?
First of all, it is actually not true that you cannot open an airplane door in flight. As a matter of fact, you can open the doors of smaller, unpressurized aircraft in flight. Think of skydiving planes, for example.
Nonetheless, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to open the door on a pressurized aircraft.
As explained by Fortune, the insides of aircraft cabins have a much higher pressure than the air outside. In fact, the difference can be as much as eight pounds per square inch. Taking into consideration the size of the door, it would require extreme strength to open the door as “one would need to overcome more than 24,000 pounds of pressure.”
A United Airlines pilot told Fortune that “[t]he higher interior pressurization actually seals the door to the frame.”
In addition to the high pressure that would need to be overcome to open the door, there are also other safety mechanisms. There are, for example, lock bolts deep inside the structure of the door. These can only be disabled with permission from the cockpit. Accordingly, a passenger will not be able to simply disable them during flight.
What would happen if somebody did indeed manage to open an aircraft door during flight?
There is a small chance that somebody could open an aircraft door on a pressurized aircraft during flight as long as the aircraft is at lower altitudes. After all, the pressure difference between the cabin and the outside of the aircraft is smaller when it’s lower.
According to BBC, if a passenger managed to open the door at lower altitudes, there would likely be a small drop in cabin pressure. Additionally, opening the door would activate the inflatable slides. Furthermore, there would most likely be very cold air entering the aircraft cabin. And, it would definitely get noisy inside the cabin.
Of course, the flight crew would see alarms and warnings go off inside the cockpit. The flight crew would most likely descend quickly and be able to make an emergency landing.
No, passengers would likely not be sucked out of the cabin like in some kind of disaster movie.
BBC mentioned further that Federal Aviation Regulations require that “Design precautions must be taken to minimize the possibility for a person to open a door intentionally during flight.”
As we can see, it is actually possible to open an aircraft door during flight. Nonetheless, it is very unlikely to happen and indeed impossible at high altitudes.