If you've ever looked at the emergency exit door on the plane and worried that some lunatic (who claimed he just wanted even more legroom!) might leap up mid-flight and rip that puppy open, well, stop worrying -- it's almost impossible. But, to put your mind truly at ease so you can get back to watching Eat, Pray, Love on your Galaxy Note, we asked three pilots what would happen if someone did try to pop the door. Here's what they said:
Cabin pressure locks the doors
Emergency exits are “plug doors,” which means they’re specifically designed to seal when there’s a difference in internal/external air pressure. They activate as soon as the engine is turned on and the cabin air is pressurized, and only a small amount of cabin pressure is actually needed to lock them.
It would take the Incredible Hulk to get one open mid-flight
Emergency exits are opened by pulling them inward, not outward. Which, when considering the cabin's internal pressure is much greater than the outside atmospheric pressure, means that not even a group of people pulling together could do it. Essentially, there is about six pounds of pressure pushing against each square inch of the door at cruising altitude, meaning you'd have to be able to pull over a thousand pounds to get it open.
If the door did open, the cabin would depressurize immediately
If the door were theoretically to open, the cabin would depressurize immediately, and oxygen masks would drop down. But you know this, because you always watch the safety demonstration.
And you have 15 seconds to get that oxygen mask on your face
At 36,000ft, the air is freezing. Like, -80F freezing. But don’t worry, you’ll only feel the frostbite for about 15 seconds before passing out from hypoxia, assuming you didn't get your oxygen mask on. Also, anyone who ignored the "fasten seatbelt" sign will, just like in the movies, get sucked out of the plane in seconds.
Pilots will try and get to a safe 10,000ft ASAP
Gradual depressurization is just as bad, as oxygen masks only have enough oxygen for a limited amount of time. Once that runs out, passengers become sluggish and fall unconscious. Before that happens, though, the pilots -- wearing more advanced rubber oxygen masks -- will try to bring the plane to a safe and breathable altitude of 10,000ft.
Thanks to D.B. Cooper, planes are actually safer At this point, you might be like: “But what about D.B. Cooper, didn’t he jump out of a plane and make off with $200k?" Well, good point. However, Cooper had forced the pilot to depressurize the cabin first, effectively unplugging the emergency exit before jumping out with a parachute. Since then, the FAA has forced airplane manufacturers to install something called the “Cooper Vane," which prevents the doors from opening while the aircraft is in flight.