Opening Emergency Doors Mid-flight

Q: How does one operate the emergency doors on airplane? Could some crazy person open them in flight?

Obviously many people don’t pay attention to the flight attendants or read the briefing cards, which explain in detail how to open the doors. You really should know how to do this. But in midflight, no, the doors will not open. That goes for both emergency exits and the main exits. They cannot open because of the outward-acting forces of the pressurized fuselage. The doors always open inward (usually inward, then outward or upward, but always inward first), and a person would not be capable of overcoming this force. So, in other words, the doors can’t be opened until the aircraft is depressurized. You’ll notice that on the sill of the main doors it often says DO NOT SIT. But in fact you could sit there all day, jiggling the handle to your heart’s content; you aren’t gonna get the door open. The reason they don’t want you sitting there is to avoid messing with the inflatable escape slide that is contained inside the lower door structure.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.