Ask a Pilot lightning round!

In our Ask a Pilot series, pilot Spencer Marker answers one of your aviation-related questions each week. See past installments here and submit your own to

I’ve received a few questions that don’t require a full article each to explain. Here are a few of them!

Question #1

Hey Spencer, why are passengers asked to put their bag under their seat even if they’re at the window?


Answer #1

Hey, Haley. Passengers are required to put their bags all the way under the seat in front of you because bags present a trip hazard. While you’re sitting on the plane at the gate and nothing is happening, it seems like tripping over your bag is the last thing that could happen. However, if there is a need to evacuate, all passengers need easy access to the aisles and to the exits, and putting your bag under your seat, putting your tray table up and putting your seat upright are all ways we ensure a clear path to evacuate. However, once the flight has left the ground and is in cruise, you can put your bag behind your legs and enjoy a little extra legroom. When you land however, put it back under the seat in front of you.

Underseat luggage (Credit: Consumer Reports)
Underseat luggage (Credit: Consumer Reports)


Question #2

Before leaving the gate, the pilot stated that we would be a little delayed because of last-minute paperwork. Is this a real explanation or just something he made up to keep us happy?

—Matthew L.

Answer #2

Hey, Matthew. I genuinely doubt the pilot would invent a paperwork story to explain a delay. Our passengers deserve to hear the truth about what is going on and it is our job to give it to them straight.

That being said, the “last-minute paperwork” your pilot may be referring to could be a number of things because our friends at the FAA sure do love their paperwork. Possible explanations could be:

  • Waiting on maintenance to finish making an entry into the aircraft’s logbook, which details every minor discrepancy with the airplane and what was done to correct it. It has to be filled out properly before leaving.
  • It could also be a change in the flight release paperwork, which is required to be generated before any aircraft can leave the gate. If something isn’t right or perhaps the weather has changed, pilots need an updated release.
  • You could also be waiting on the final load closeout for the airplane, which is generated to estimate how much an airplane weighs using assumed weights. In fact, I wrote a previous article about it. Sometimes airlines make a pilot wait at the gate to assure that the airplane is loaded within limits and is under its maximum weights.

Granted this is just a small list of the things a pilot could be waiting on before the door is closed and the airplane departs the gate.

No flight can leave the gate without paperwork (Credit:
No flight can leave the gate without paperwork (Credit:

Question #3

Hey Spencer, is it remotely possible to open the exterior doors in flight?

—Sam J.

Answer #3

Hey, Sam. I get this question frequently and to state it clearly: NO, the airplane doors cannot be opened in flight.

This has to do with the way doors are designed. Many aircraft employ doors are called plug doors. So called because they are actually larger than the opening in the side of the airplane. This way, when the airplane is flying, this exit is actually pressed into the frame of the jet by the airplane’s pressurization. Other non-plug type doors also require similar forces to open when pressurized. Additionally, both of these doors employ strong latches to ensure they stay firmly shut. Any would-be bad guys would require superhuman strength to pull against that much air pressure to open.

So hypothetically how much force would actually be needed? Let’s do the math! (How fun!) Most airplanes operate with a little less than eight pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure being outwardly exerted on the body of the airplane, including the door. Let’s say this door is 2.5 feet, or 30″ wide and 6.5 feet, or 78″ tall. This makes the total area of the door 2,340 square inches. Now multiply that times our  8psi cabin pressure. For those of you following along, that’s over 18,700 pounds of force required to open the door. Even smaller exit doors would still require many tons of pressure. So to say it simply, opening a door in flight is not possible. Not even for Superman.

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Thank you so much to everyone for writing in. Please keep those questions coming and drop us a line at to get your question featured in an upcoming Ask a Pilot column.




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