United Airlines Flight Accidentally Took Off With Plane’s Window Open

Tuesday’s United Airlines flight 1274 from Hartford, Connecticut to Washington Dulles had to return to Hartford shortly after takeoff when pilots realized that a cockpit window had been left unlatched – and popped open once they took off and climbed to 4,000 feet.

While it was difficult for air traffic control to hear pilot transmission due to the noise of wind entering the cockpit with this window open, the plane was cleared to return immediately.

The side windows in the cockpit of the Boeing 737 slide open and shut, allowing a pilot to communicate directly with ground staff and even being used to climb out of in an emergency. One of these windows hadn’t been locked properly, leaving it in a partially open position. It’s unclear whether this was an oversight or the result of a maintenance issue with the aircraft.

According to a United Airlines spokesperson,

The flight landed safely, and we reaccomodated our customers on another aircraft.

Indeed, passengers were offloaded from the Boeing 737-900 upon return to Hartford and after a total delay of 6 hours made their way to Washington Dulles on board a Boeing 737 MAX 9. The original aircraft remained on the ground for 12 hours, presumably allowing maintenance to ensure the cockpit window was working properly or address any issues that had prevented proper closure in the first place.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hmmm, I’m wondering if that is on the safety checklist? I’m thinking it will be now if it isn’t already.

    I used to work as a crew controller for TWA. The worse incident I remember being involved in was we had a bird strike in Sioux Falls, SD hit the windscreen and broke the window. The first officer had bird blood all over her uniform. Not a Maintenace issue, but quick the experience for the crew and her.

  2. Given that they did an aircraft swap, the chances are that it was a mechanical problem w/ the latch. If it was pure human error, they either did the aircraft swap to make it look like it wasn’t human error or else the crew didn’t want to take the flight on the 2nd attempt (probably a good idea) and it was just as easy to swap out a new crew AND plane.

  3. Gary…
    With all due respect Sir I think your headline to this article is misleading at best and could be misinterpreted or misquoted by any number of people.
    The window was not open it was unlocked and caused it to open after they got some altitude. Maybe a better headline might be “United flight mistakenly takes off with a cockpit window unlocked that allowed it to open as they climbed”

  4. FA: please make sure you’re seat tables are in the upright and locked position and pilots, that goes for the windows too.

  5. Depending on the aircraft, EICAS should have an amber caution message annunciate if cockpit windows are not closed and locked. There’s also a visual check indication. The window opening is not a big deal. It’s noisy as hell but there’s no structural issues. This problem will be evaluated and I’m betting that the issue is a mechanical failure rather than pilot error.

  6. About ten years ago, I was on a plane when the cockpit window opened during acceleration for takeoff. The pilot slammed on the breaks and I thought we were all going to die by crashing into another plane on the runway. We had to go sit for a long time while the brakes cooled off, and then continued the trip in the same plane. I received an apology letter and $100 out of the deal.

  7. I agree with Picard above. The headline is better for clicks but assumes it was pilot error. Way to be like FOX….

  8. It *was* pilot error. I’m pretty horrified at how many mistakes American (quote unquote) pilots make these days.

    At least they’re diverse, so that’s all that matters.

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