What happens when you open the flight emergency exit door?

Amrutha PagadJanuary 30, 2023 | 17:17 IST

There has always come a time when you were seated next to an emergency exit on a flight. You were asked whether, in case of an emergency, you would do the most heroic thing and open the exit door. You probably nodded yes, despite never having lifted anything heavier than your arm.

But lately, there have been a few very willing candidates doing the deed without being asked to. First was BJP MP Tejasvi Surya (it was an accident apparently, Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia later clarified); and the second, more recently, a passenger on a Nagpur-Mumbai flight.

  • The first incident took place when the flight was preparing to take off. 
  • The second incident took place on January 24 on an IndiGo flight upon landing. The crew on board the flight rushed to the emergency exit area when an indicator showed someone was trying to open the emergency door. A complaint has been lodged against the passenger. 

We cannot answer why these individuals tried to open the emergency exit door. But we can look at what happens when someone tries to open the emergency door on a flight. 

Can the emergency exit door be opened anytime during a flight? No. 

  • According to, the emergency exit door in a flight CANNOT be opened mid-air. 
  • This is because of cabin pressure, which makes it humanly impossible to open the emergency exit door. 
  • The emergency doors can be opened when the flight is on the ground; but even then, there are a series of locks holding it in place. 
  • Like in the case of the Nagpur-Mumbai flight, where the crew was alerted that an emergency door was being opened, there are indicators placed with the pilot that go off when someone tries to get the door open. 

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The make of the aircraft and the emergency exit door: 

  • There are differences between the emergency exit doors on a flight too, depending on the aircraft.
  • It is easier to open an emergency exit door on an ATR flight, the one that Tejasvi Surya was on. 
  • The emergency doors on ATR aircraft don't have handle covers. According to Deccan Herald, they look like the grab handles on buses, and the seats next to the emergency doors don't have an armrest. 
  • Sometimes, passengers can confuse the handle for the seat's armrest and pull on it. 
  • On aircraft such as the Airbus or Boeing, the emergency exit doors are "hatch type" and require some strength to open. They also come with handle covers.

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So, how are emergency exit doors opened? 

  • Most emergency exit doors open inward, and some retract to the ceiling or swing outwards.
  • When an emergency exit door is opened, it also often activates the emergency escape slide. But these slides open with enough force to crush someone, like the ground staff, to death. 

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Finally, what happens to the likes of Tejasvi Surya (reportedly) and the passenger on the Nagpur-Mumbai flight, who open emergency exit doors on a whim?

  • Well, if you are an MP, you may be able to walk away with an apology. If you are not, then there could be a police complaint against you, you could be imprisoned, fined, and put on a no-fly list

So, the next time you want to jump off a flight mid-air, know that you cannot do that. There's just no escape from that crying baby and the annoying passenger next to you, nor do you need to worry about being ejected into the sky, several feet above the ground because someone decided that they are having a bad day. You just need to worry about the windows. 

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Last updated: January 30, 2023 | 17:17
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