Boeing 737 Flew With Aircraft Door Open This Week — and Pilot Didn’t Notice

Goodness knows Indonesian aviation has its challenges and so do its passengers (such as riding a motorcycle naked to the airport).

Wednesday’s Sriwijaya Air planned 2200 mile flight from Guangzhou, China to Denpasar (Bali), Indonesia reportedly had to turn around and go back to Guangzhou because:

  • “the plane’s front door wasn’t closed all the way”
  • however “indicators in the cockpit inaccurately showed that the door was closed all the way.”

The story spreading around news sites and social media is that it was “90 minutes into the flight when crew members noticed” however this doesn’t make sense to me.

An hour and a half into the flight they’d have long been flying above 30,000 feet for three quarters of an hour. But with the door open the cabin couldn’t have been pressurized. Something is off in the description here.

According to Flightradar24 the aircraft never got above 10,775 feet — that was 7 minutes into the flight — and it stayed above 9000 feet for only about 8 minutes. (The Boeing 737 would only have been pressurized to about 8000 feet.) The aircraft was in the air for less than an hour.

It appears to have taken significant efforts to turn the plane around and get it back onto the ground.

Translated from Chinese:

“Suddenly the plane shook very badly, as if something, the radio was informed to return to Guangzhou.” Passenger Miss Haw told reporters yesterday at 3 o’clock in the morning, he followed the tour group boarded from Guangzhou to Bali SJ1159 flight.

Who knows, the plane in the course of the trip is not smooth, starting more than an hour later, the plane issued a notice about to return to Guangzhou. At that time, sitting in front of the cabin passengers Mr. Chen said, hear the dialogue between the crew, “seems to be some problems with the aircraft door.

The plane landed safely, passengers disembarked, and after checking out the aircraft the flight again took off for Indonesia. However at least 20 passengers decided not to fly. Despite what seems a reasonable cause for cancelling their journey “[t]hey are currently negotiating with the airline over ticket refunds.”

Credit: Southern Metropolis Daily, China

(HT: René S.)

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  1. I am a commercial airline pilot with 20 years at a major US carrier.

    The title of this article is a bit misleading. It sees to assume that the pilots were incompetent or negligent in some way by blasting off with an open door.

    There could be several explanations for this return to origin flight.

    In many airlines the gate agent is actually responsible for opening and closing the door. On some aircraft the doors are electric and easier to operate but in the case of the 737 it’s quite an old design and the door can be heavy and difficult to operate. All doors have a warning light in the cockpit if they are ajar or open. Occasionally the rubber seal around the door comes loose and you have a small pressurization leak. It can be quite loud in flight and the flight attendants would alert the captain as there is no indication in the cockpit. The aircraft can still pressurize but as the differential pressure and speed increase the noise tends to get louder(it’s a loud whistling/wind noise) and can be quite alarming.

    Also, a nylon strap from the inflatable slide can be overlooked and be hanging outside the aircraft creating a similar effect as it induces an air leak in the door seal and slaps against the aircraft skin in flight. The caterers cause this one quite often as they exit the aircraft and close one of the doors other than the front entry.

    Both of these door issues are not dangerous to the aircraft, passengers and crew. They are easy to resolve, but only back on the ground where you can open the door and quickly repair the offending seal.

    The 737, and most narrowbody aircraft, have no fuel dump capability. It is quite safe to land them at maximum gross takeoff weight immediately after takeoff if necessary.

    It appears this crew elected to go into a holding pattern to analyze the door problem. They then made the decision to return and have the situation resolved before continuing on to destination.

    In my experience it is common for passengers to be frightened by a return of this type and typically about 10% decide to deplane. I once had a return like this for a water leak in the galley, a man came to the cockpit with tears in his eyes saying that he wad a wife and children at home and was afraid to go now. I calmly explained to him that I also had a wife and two children at home and we would not be flying unless it was absolutely safe. Pilots are not paid to take chances. I want to go home to my family after work just like everyone else. The drive home is the most dangerous part of my work day!

  2. @Jerry,
    “The drive home is the most dangerous part of my work day”…You make me wish I could take a plane to and from work.

  3. That was a good summary from the pilot in the above comment. While you cannot open a door in flight, if the seal isn’t complete it will make a lot of noise and cause problems in flight. I’m glad the Captain was able to land the plane without incident.

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