Would a Mitt Romney Administration Require Retrofitting Aircraft Windows?

Dan R. passes along comments Mitt Romney made at a fundraiser.

Romney’s wife, Ann, was in attendance, and the candidate spoke of the concern he had for her when her plane had to make an emergency landing Friday en route to Santa Monica because of an electrical malfunction.

“I appreciate the fact that she is on the ground, safe and sound. And I don’t think she knows just how worried some of us were,” Romney said. “When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly, there’s no — and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem. So it’s very dangerous. And she was choking and rubbing her eyes. Fortunately, there was enough oxygen for the pilot and copilot to make a safe landing in Denver. But she’s safe and sound.”

(Emphasis mine.)

There are, of course, very good responses to Mitt Romney when he suggests “I don’t know why they don’t do that.” Like aircraft pressurization, and that oxygen feeds fire.

If you want to give Romney every possible benefit here, though (in addition to “he was pretty jarred by an event affecting his wife”) one might posit that the windows would be opened by crew only and when the plane was at an altitude low enough that it’s unpressurized.

It’s still going to be better to get low to the ground to breathe, like you were taught in grade school, in order to avoid the effects of the smoke.

But if smoke were filling the cabin such that it’s an even greater risk than fire, and if the aircraft were at a low enough altitude, a pilot could conceivably make the decision to vent the plane. I have a hard time imagining this scenario myself, however..

Thanks to Hans for discussion of this.

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. Tomorrow the Romney camp will blame Obama for secretly working behind the scenes to prevent the windows from opening in order to place Ann Romney’s life in danger. On Wednesday, after learning what hypoxia is, Romney will refuse to back down and claim he has always been against windows opening on aircraft. On Thursday we’ll learn that Romney tied his dog to the outside of his aircraft after his family filled the cabin of “Hair Force One” with too many bottles of hair products and tanning spray.

  2. Sorry, Gary, but that charitable “save” doesn’t pass the laugh test. GHW Bush didn’t know about grocery scanners, it turned out during the campaign for his single term in office, but this is a much more serious disconnect because it shows an utter lack of understanding of elementary school science. I’d want the fingers of the author of those words as far away from the ability to deploy nuclear missiles as possible.

  3. Sorry but are you people really this stupid? I don’t think it take a genius to figure out that he thinks that when the cabin fills with smoke there should be some way for the passengers to breathe oxygen. Since they obviously can’t get it themselves by, say, opening a window, perhaps a mask could drop down from the overhead or something and provide oxygen?

    Political bigots are the most intolerant and intolerable people.


  4. @ Patrick Kavanagh: Okay, I don’t like GHWB any more than you do (although he seems a lot more intelligent now that I’ve seen the son), but that urban legend is no more true than the statement that Al Gore claimed to invent the internet. He did comment about the scanners, but it was in the sense of the wonders of technology in everyday life. He knew perfectly well what they did.

    As for Romney’s quote, I wish I had the link for the double face-palm.

  5. “I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out that…”

    No, not a genius, just a delusional apologist. Spin that tea bag!

  6. Below 10k feet, the only downside that I’ve found in my research is that it’d be cold and windy and the fire might speed up. However, a small fire can make enough smoke to kill everyone on board much more quickly than a medium-sized (i.e. window-fed) fire would burn everyone to death or render the plane structurally unsound.

    I’m not trying to suggest all planes be retrofitted with this tech–obviously an actual expert should weigh in and studies should be done. However, the point is, it takes some blind partisanship or arrogant conclusion-jumping (or, admittedly, a lot more aviation and science expertise than I have) to assume it was a dumb idea. In fact, given the reflexive herd response (shoot, my first thought was it was a dumb idea, until I actually thought about the science behind it), it shows quite a bit of creativity to come up with this solution.

    However, given how high everyone’s emotions are running this election, I won’t hold my breath (ha) waiting for a rational response.

  7. @HansGolden Yes, a real creative solution… about as creative as strapping your dog on the roof of your car… or reverting to oligarchy.

  8. Is it really necessary to make political comments on a travel blog? If so – I’m going to make mine. Don’t worry about Romney and airplane windows. Worry about the internal threat to America that we have now, and why there are not enough jobs. Like Clint said, “the interest just isn’t there…”

  9. I find it fascinating that those bashing us feel the need to use emotionally-loaded words that stigmatize even stopping to think that such a comment may not be stupid. The kind of closed-mindedness that needs to be present in order to do that is staggering.

    I find it further amusing that the anti- crowd simultaneously trumpets an appeal to “elementary school science” and fails to deign to explain any such simple concepts. The sole exception is the gentleman who alluded to hypoxia; the gentleman in question either has low reading comprehension or does not understand the science, because Gary explicitly noted that this model was only for low altitudes (below 10k feet).

  10. I am genuinely wanting to learn here, hoping to parlay this into an educational look into the details of the actual science. But it appears most people are here to just score cheap political points.

    If anyone can intelligently explain the scientific ins and outs of this scenario, I’m all ears, pro or con. However, if all people have are schoolyard insults, go troll OMNI/PR.

  11. In the case of just smoke (not fire), there have been cases, and I think in some cases it is on the checklist, to descend and open cabin doors to air out the cabin. And anyway, after being to a Romney event and seeing many others, I have no reason to doubt that this was sarcastic.

  12. Given that the sole source for this comment was the LA Times, I have to wonder if there isn’t more to this story that we aren’t being made privy to.

    Since this fire was electrical in origin, intentionally depressurizing the cabin would assist in the process of clearing out the smoke. This would also mean that all passengers and crew would have to be on supplemental oxygen (i.e. masks).

  13. I love how the LA Times didn’t take his comment in context. It was wrapped up with other jokes, so pretty obvious this was a joke also. Good thing the LA Times doesn’t have an agenda…….

  14. (loves the ‘stupid’ comments for a former president with a BA from Yale and MBA from Harvard, and the ONLY MBA ever in the Oval Office)

    Without being strapped in, who’s going to open the doors on an aircraft flying at 500 miles per hour? There’s no safe way to do that on a commercial airliner, period, so that’s out. Nevermind the aerodynamic effects on controlled flight, wind/debris in the cabin, etc.

    I’m not sure I’d want to enrich the oxygen level of a small fire, so overhead O2 is out. Best option is vent as much outside air as possible (cabin AC to max), rapid descent, land and evacuate.

  15. I’m going to pretend for a minute that I missed something and nobody here is actually defending the idea of opening windows on a jetliner. You’re all kidding right?

    If not, here’s some science, for those of us without the scientific knowledge earned when pursuing an MBA:

    There is a certain speed where the force of lift on the wings will no longer be enough to keep the plane in the sky, known as a stall speed. It varies greatly between different jets/configurations/loads, but it hovers around 170mph. So best case scenario, flying below 6900 feet (a common cabin pressure) if someone opened the windows on a plane, everyone would suffer severe windburn and difficulty breathing from the sheer speed of the wind.

    For reference, that would be the same windspeed as AN EF4 TORNADO. These level houses and throw cars.
    See: Harrisburg, IL

    The only reason planes DON’T get torn apart at the seams flying at much greater speeds than this is because they’re streamlined. If you open the windows this is no longer the case, and even ignoring things like inability to control the plane and excessive & and fuel consumption, those tornado-speed winds (which would be entering the cabin at multiple and intersecting angles because of the multiple windows) would gladly rip it to shreds. Even below 6900 feet and at the comparatively low speed of 170 mph required to stay aloft.

    Next time stop accusing people of accusing politicians of being dumb for 8 minutes of your own research.

  16. Stall speed on a Beechjet 400a (the first aircraft listed on the website of the famous Buffet fractional jet ownership company NetJets) is 106 mph. I’ve driven down the road at 80 mph with the windows open and lived to tell the tale. I’m pretty sure an extra 30 mph would not result in my skin separating from my face.

    The point is not that this necessarily IS a good idea; the point is that it’s not a mind-blowingly stupid idea and it’s something that I’d be interested in learning more about. Joke or serious, my curiosity is piqued.

    OTOH, it appears that Romney was actually joking, in which case the joke is definitely on those who got their panties in a partisan wad. 😀

  17. This case demonstrates the risk of relying on partisan reports of their adversary’s statements. Such reports are rarely objectively presented. They are often highly inaccurate as well.

    I have seen this happen too many times to count, on both sides. As voters we need to discourage such childish behavior. It distracts people from serious discussion of issues. That’s both the motivation for it and the reason to reject it.

  18. @HansGolden: I’m not so sure that really changes the message enough to undo the damage. Personally I’ve been soured on the GOP ever since the unmitigated disaster that was Bush 43 and anytime I hear a candidate say anything that sounds remotely like something Bush would say I’m immediate put off.

    I actually think Romney could have owned this election if he hadn’t agreed to trumpet an ideology he probably doesn’t really care that much about. As a result nearly half of what Romney says today appears to go completely against what he has said with equal conviction in the past. It’s hard to point out the inconsistencies in your opponent’s record when you’ve managed to outshine them all with your own poorly unexplained hypocrisy. David Brooks seems to have the same opinion and he says it better than I can.

    Maybe this was just a poorly worded joke after all. However, if your reputation is so damaged and your delivery is so poor that you have to actually *tell* people you’re joking it might be a sign that you need more than just another “reset” of your campaign.

  19. The didn’t drop the oxygen masks? Must not have been much smoke, confirmed by the fact that no one died from it.

    Interesting, but not surprising, that Romney didn’t know about oxygen masks.

  20. Gary Steiger: Multiple sources have said oxygen masks are inappropriate for a smoke/fire situation. FWIW.

  21. As far as I can see, the first person to get their panties in a proverbial partisan wad here was Hans. You asked for a scientific reason it was a bad idea, and despite the fact there have been some, including hypoxia (“the gentleman in question… has low reading comprehension” followed immediately by chastising schoolyard insults?!) and the stall speed issue (really, Beechjet? how about something that I can buy a ticket on like a 737?) you dismissed both out of hand because they don’t match your politics. Windows opening WOULD be a “mind blowingly stupid” idea. That is why they don’t open. I’m relieved that it was a joke, and a tiny bit of my faith in humanity is restored by that. Your assertion that anyone besides Mitt who KNEW it was dumb being clearly anti-Romney is the most polarizing and partisan statement on this entire thread.

    And to Joe The Plumber, there aren’t enough jobs because it costs less money for large corporations to send jobs overseas and pay someone else to do them. The only way for a government to create jobs is to make more government jobs. I thought people wanted a smaller government. Which one is it?

  22. This just in… Romney was joking.


    “Basically he was retelling the story and when he said ‘I don’t know why they don’t have roll down windows on airplanes,’ he looked at the audience and everyone laughed,” Everitt told TheBlaze. “It was a clearly delivered joke … There were 1,000 people there that will tell you the same thing.”

  23. This just in… Romney was joking.


    When we asked Parker this morning whether it seemed as if Romney made the mark in jest, she left no doubt. “Romney was joking,” she e-mailed. Parker told us that while the pool report didn’t explicitly indicate that Romney was joking, it was self-evident that he was. “The pool report provided the full transcript of his comments on Ann’s plane scare,” she said, “and it was clear from the context that he was not being serious.”

  24. Whether you like him or not, Romney is known to have a sort of dry sense of humor and clearly he was joking. It is really dumb of people to jump on this as an example of him not knowing elementary science or something. What a waste of a post and all these comments.

  25. When Obama says he has been to 54 of the 57 states, refers to a US Marine as a corpse-man, and tells us that people in Austria speak “Austrian”, the leftist media still never doubts that he is the smartest POTUS in history. When Romney makes an obvious joke, the LA Times shills for Obama by reporting it as a “gaffe”. What I’m wondering is why this travel blog is being used to add to the MSM dirty tricks campaign for Obama…

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