Old Lady Accidentally Opens Emergency Door

March 7, 2010

in Senior Stories

Last summer a friend and I were on an Alitalia flight (Boeing 747) from Milan to London. Passengers were boarding and we took our seats in the emergency overwing exit row (I am quite tall and had asked for these seats). Across the aisle from us, in the two seats closest to the emergency overwing exit on the other side, sat an elderly couple.

After the doors had been closed and while the captain was making the preflight announcements, I noticed that the old lady across the aisle had taken off her jacket and had attempted to hang it up on what she assumed to be a coat hook, but what in fact turned out the be the door handle for the emergency overwing door. The door came away from its hinges and fell inwards on her lap. Rather than alert the staff, she surreptitiously tried to push the door back into place. By this time, another passenger sitting in the aisle seat next to the elderly couple became very upset. She had noticed the old lady trying to push the door back into place and summoned the purser. He was very annoyed and disappeared into the cockpit.

The plane was halted and the the purser appeared with the captain. They both fiddled with the door and pushed it back shut. The captain then proceeded to talk to everyone who had seen the incident and explained to us that the door was manufactured to enable it to come away easily. He assured us all that the pressure in the cabin would create a seal that secured the door in place. We were all much relieved, but quite a few people watched the door with a hawk’s eye for the remainder of the flight.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Demotage March 7, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Atmospheric pressure is around 4 psi at 30,000 ft as opposed to about 15 psi at sea level. An overwing door is about 30 inches by 40 inches, or 1200 square inches. Planes are pressurized to an equivalent of 10,000 ft., about 10 psi. So the difference between in inside and outside of the plane is about 6 psi. This means that there are about 7200 pounds of pressure pushing on the door when the plane is at altitude. It would take more than a little old lady to pull it open at altitude.

This is not to say that I would not have been nervous too. But I would have been more nervous about about her pulling it open during take off, since they apparently easy to open when pressures are equal.


david March 7, 2010 at 5:58 pm

demotage they hadnt eventaken off yet….they closed the doors and made the announcements

and i dont believe this story at all, the emergancy door "handle" isn't like a door handle, it needs some pressure, more than jus a coat and the emergancy doors open out and not in, otherwise people couldnt get out in case of an emergancy

and many planes emergancy doors have a "switch/handle" that you need to pull down or push up before you can push the handle to open the emergancy door


Demotage March 7, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Yeah, David, I realized that. I was just saying that the pilot's saying that it wouldn't come open after they were up, was true. But I'm not surprised that you don't believe the story. Most windows exits I've seen at least have a cover over them.


Vik March 9, 2010 at 4:27 am

Window exit on B747? B747s are equipped with 5 exits on each side, where the middle one is overwing. But it's NOT a window exit. It's a BIIIIG door with a big handle that you need turn a half circle.

Someone's definetely got something terribly wrong in this story…


madachode March 9, 2010 at 5:34 am

Seatmates should have pushed that old bat out the door then closed it and not told a soul.


GR March 9, 2010 at 6:01 am

Even if this story is true- and I don't believe it is. And of this was not a 747 and it was a plug style window, the window exit is 38-50 pounds. The imaginary little old lady, would have probably been reseated if she could not handle such an exit in an emergency.


Chuck Male March 13, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I do find it odd that they would seat an old woman at an exit row, but I've seen it on flights I've been on. I've seen families, kids and what not at that row, but it only seems to appear on foreign carriers.


Adam March 10, 2010 at 9:32 am

I smell bull crap! The reason? Altalia hasn't operated Boeing 747's in quite a few years. Also, a jacket weighing only a few pounds isn't going to be heavy enough to exert the 15-25 pounds of pressure needed to pull the door handle! Why do people waste the time making up fake stories?


Chuck Male March 13, 2010 at 4:00 pm

A similar thing happened to me on an Icelandair flight from Glasgow ten years ago but after we landed. When a French woman, elderly kept trying to open the door thinking it was a window that could she opens.

Her husband kept trying to make her stop as we taxied to the jetway, and she just shouted at him as she kept trying to open it. She manged to get the plastic overlay off, but the door was still in place.

The FA kept trying to make her stop but she ignored them. It was not a frantic, "I need out" sort a thing, it was like she was trying to roll down a car window and completely non-chilant. Finally the police took her in to custody and she acted like nothing was wrong.


LH-FA March 26, 2010 at 7:55 pm

why do I think this Story is crap???

1st: Milan to London is a shortrange flight and airlines operate these flights with small planes like Boeing 737, Airbus 320, Canadair CRJ, Embraer 190…

2nd: Allitalia doesnt operate 747

3rd: the handle of an 747 overwing exit has to be pulled UP with TWO hands to be opened.

4th: after all the doors are closed they will be "in flight" what means if a door is opened the slide will fall out and blow up.

5th: an overwing door of a 747 cannot be closed again because the fully filled tanks in the wing distort the door frame. they had to be emptied (which would take its time)

If you feel like telling bullshit you should be smart and know what you are talking crap about 😉


Sarah August 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm

You guys need to chill.

Not everyone is going to be an expert on planes and airlines, so give it a rest. Anyways, fake or not (who cares??) this is a good story when it comes down to it.


john April 15, 2013 at 10:06 am

I always ensure that we bring a healthy and filling cold meal on all flights despite British Airways serving in flight meals. A mixed pasta tray each, sandwiches some cheese and grapes and olive bread – cant go wrong. Our last British Airways flight they served a full breakfast – egg, bacon, sausage and hash browns on the feeder flight to Gatwick (45 mins). The connecting flight to Sicily (3 hours) they served a minute sandwich ? where is the logic in the two flights


Chelle May 29, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Being a general glider pilot and not a common commercial flyer (the best I've done is three times trans-tasman, AKL to SYD or MEL), My only comment is that on our local airlines (I can't assume for others outside of Virgin Aus and Air NZ), you have to be of certain physical strength to even sit in the aisle seat of the exit row, let alone the exit seat itself.

The local rule is age 16+ and physically able to open the door, as well as assess the outside conditions prior to actually opening the exit. Plus they expect you to be able to provide aid to other passengers, and get yourself out first, quickly and safely, as well as have a proficient understanding of written and spoken english. I have to say I personally think there should be a general age maximum on the whole exit row too.

I know that even when I flew in a little puddle jumper (local town link in NZ, 7 seats), I was not even allowed to sit in the three seats surrounding the exit, even though only one was directly adjacent to it, because I was only 12 at the time. Safety is clearly paramount with AIR NZ link. 🙂

Dunno about VA but will find out soon when I go to SYD again later this year.

Emirates also, I notice, on a recent flight from AKL to MEL, doesn't even allow those in a group on the flight to sit in an exit row unless in an exceptional circumstance, as the tallest of our group was not able to secure this seat for leg room. I suppose that's to do with group safety and the overall adult in charge of the group, etc.


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