We have heard a few stories about passengers who went distraught and tried to jerk open an emergency exit during a flight, only to be tackled and restrained by those around.
Okay, let us begin by mentioning the most important fact. You cannot, I repeat, you cannot – open the doors or emergency hatches of an airplane in flight. You can’t open them for the simple reason that cabin pressure won’t allow it. Think of an aircraft door as a drain plug, fixed in place by the interior pressure. Almost all aircraft exits open inward. Some retract upward into the ceiling; others swing outward; but they open inward first, and not even the most musclebound human will overcome the force holding them shut.
At a typical cruising altitude, up to eight pounds of pressure are pushing against every square inch of interior fuselage. That’s over 1,100 pounds against each square foot of door. Even at low altitudes, where cabin pressure levels are much less, a meager 2 p.s.i. differential is still more than anyone can displace — even after six cups of coffee and the aggravation that comes with sitting behind a shrieking baby. The doors are further held secure by a series of electrical and/or mechanical latches.
However, should such a determined person somehow manage to open the door of a large passenger aircraft at high altitude, the cabin would lose pressure – extremely rapidly – and chaos would ensue.
After a gradual loss of cabin pressure, the lack of oxygen at 30,000 feet will leave the crew incapacitated, and the plane – on auto-pilot – will slowly run out of fuel, before plunging to the ground.
Anyone standing near the exit would be ejected into the sky; the cabin temperature would quickly plummet to frostbite-inducing levels, and the plane itself might even begin to break apart. It is all chaos and destruction.
Fortunately, the good news is, it is simply impossible to open a plane door during a flight, cabin pressure would not allow it.