Can A Passenger Open An Airplane Door In Flight?

Over the past few weeks there seems to be an unusual frequency of stories regarding airline passengers attempting to open a commercial airliner’s door in flight.  The thought of a door opening in flight is scary, and with good reason … people fear being sucked out of a plane and the rapid decompression causing plane to crash … but the reality is that once a commercial airliner begins to pressurize during its taxi from the gate to the runway the it is virtually impossible for a passengers, or even a group of passengers, to open a door.


The physics of opening a door on a commercial airliner make the possibility of a passenger rotating the ‘open lever,’ and having the door open in flight highly improbable.  The majority of commercial passenger aircraft cabin doors are ‘plug’ doors. A ‘plug’ door is designed in such a way that the door’s physical size is larger than the hole it is placed into. In order to open a modern jet airliner’s door, the door must swing into the cabin before swinging out of the cabin.   Once an airplane begins to pressurize, the pressure around the seals around the door prevent the door from become dislodged, and on many aircraft requires a mechanical mechanism to physically lift the door.


What prevents a door from being pulled into the cabin to swing it out? According to Boeing Since airplanes typically cruise above 30,000 feet, the air pressure inside the plane is much greater than the pressure outside — and that pressure differential makes it impossible to open the door, even if somebody wanted to do such a thing.”

Regarding the pressure holding a cabin door in place, Karlene Petitt, a veteran commercial airline pilot, says, “A group couldn’t open it because they don’t have the strength and ability. There is no way to harness the combined strength”

Gailen David, CEO of Jetiquette and a long time flight attendant with a major international airline, recalls two incidents that demonstrate the power of a pressurized cabin door. “I discovered just how impossible it is to open an airplane door before the cabin has been depressurized upon arrival at Chicago O’Hare. I went to open the door and it would not budge one bit. I advised the cockpit and they told me to wait about 15 seconds. Then everything worked perfectly. They had not depressurized the cabin.”

Gailen goes onto also discuss the dangers of pressurized cabin doors, “There was American Airlines A-300 incident in Miami in which a flight attendant was ejected from an airliner and died while the plane was on the ground and attempting an evacuation. The plane was not depressurized when the flight attendant lifted the lever…. however he left the lever in the open position and as soon as the cockpit crew depressurized the cabin, the door was suddenly able to open, but the sudden rush of pressure sent the flight attendant out the door as well.”

There is no doubt it is scary when a passenger runs towards a door and reaches for the ‘open lever,’ but there is no immediate danger to the passengers or aircraft, even if the ‘open lever’ is pulled and rotated.


The best advice comes from Gailen David … Quick tip: Don’t touch the lever!”

Happy Flying!



  1. We can only hope that people who try to pull stunts like this continue to get their asses kicked by fellow passengers so that the nonsense stops.

  2. Well actually, ALL Boeing product are fuselage plug format doors. And yes the pressure differance is what keeps those doors snug in their fitting but it is because the inside part of the door is wider than the hole in the fuselage. That is why it is called a “plug”. Those doors have to be brought into the aircraft and they swivel on an angle when they are pushed outside. The hinge is designed to do this so it is not a big deal BUT you do have to depressurize the cabin first. The total force on the door can be measured at somewhere between 15 to 18 pounds per square inch. Each door is several hundered square inches so you can do the math and see what kind of forces holds that door/plug in place.

    Now for Airbus. None of the above is true. Airbus does not use the “plug” style, they use the “lever and dog” style. That is a lever at or near the center of the door is rotated which moves dogs or latching arms into contact with the fuselage. These dogs are geared to pull the door into tight contact with the fuselage. However, they can be opened in flight with or without cabin pressure being applied. The incident related in the post where the Aircrew was ejected from the aircraft was because the aircraft was pressurized and the door was opened. The door flew out because it had thousands of pounds of force acting on it and the Aircrewman was holding onto the handle. This propelled him from the aircraft and out onto the tarmac. This is why these doors are “locked” prior to flight and then unlocked at the gate. You can hear them call over the PA at gate arrival for the crew to “disarm” or other action and “Crosscheck”. This is the crew unlocking the doors so they can be opened..

    So, mostly an accurate post but this is one of the design differances between Boeing and Airbus.

    BT: Jimmy T sends.

  3. The real story! I love it when fly attendants say stupid shit.

    Depending on the aircraft! The aircraft will pressurize to different altitudes set by us flier types up front. For short hauls it can be as little as 5000, meaning that there is roughly 5-6 lbs per sqin. The higher we go, the higher the caben goes up to a max of 10,500 cabin altitude(around 13,000, some people become hypoxic). Which can get most jets to the high 40’s.

    All aircraft doors require there to be equal pressure to open!!! Thats right I said all! Boing plug type doors also have pressure check doors(small doors opening inward usually 6-14sqin) with the leverage provided by the mechanical linkage, that translates to about 900lb. Are you that strong?

    Same basic principle on airbus, except the door locks are connected to the same leaver. To a pilot, that means all our nuggets are safe and sound regardless of all the crazys!

    A pilots primary responsibility is safety! Or as we like to call it, self preservation!

  4. “You can hear them call over the PA at gate arrival for the crew to “disarm” or other action and “Crosscheck””

    this is not true, they do this on all flights.. Arming the door so if its opened the escape slides will inflate.. h

  5. In the accident at Miami whit the A300 from AA, the pressurization was not the problem. The attendant was thrown from the airplane by the door pneumatic system’s to open the door in a emergency.
    My co-work hold to the door like train to punched it out. On old aircraft you have to push the door out.
    AA mechanic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *