Aviation Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for aircraft pilots, mechanics, and enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I see that big planes (B737, A319 etc.) always need a staircase or a boarding tunnel in order for crew or passengers to enter the cabin since the position of the entry door is quite high (meters above the ground). What solutions are there if none of these options are available? (Except, obviously, for aircraft like DC-9's/MD-82 and 727's which had the rear entrance) How could the pilots get in? Is there some sort of manhole under the aircraft that can be opened to get inside with a sliding staircase or similar?

Living in Africa, I have been to a couple of airstrips where these aircraft do land. Obviously all the airports had stairs but since we cope with some strange situations over here, the question came into my mind. What is the alternative should something go wrong and no traditional means be available to get in the plane?

share|improve this question
I don't know if there are any manholes, but what kind of airport would have a runway to encompass that kind of plane and not have stairs? – falstro Mar 3 '14 at 15:40
You are right but my question is just out of curiosity. I live in Tanzania, Africa and there are a couple of remote, very basic airstrips in which I have seen 737's land. They did obviously have stairs in the airport, but, being in Africa, there could be cases where these would be broken or been stolen etc!! So that's were my curiosity came out from. What if a situation like this arises? What are the options? – Fabrizio Mazzoni Mar 3 '14 at 15:42
@p1l0t You know why I asked.. just a couple of months ago I was talking with a BA engineer that came to check some damage done to their B767 that used to fly into Dar es Salaam. He was telling me that the plane smashed into the boarding tunnel causing minor damage do to an incompetent marshaller. They then found out that this lady failed all the exams and was put there just because she was related to the airport manager!! So if something important like this happens, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that a staircase is broken or stolen!!! – Fabrizio Mazzoni Mar 3 '14 at 16:02
@abelenky look at the slideshow on top, they used stairs, a boeing 737 is tiny compared to the 747 though – ratchet freak Mar 3 '14 at 16:11
A Delta Boeing 747 landed at Midway after a windscreen crack. There were no stairs, so a local carpenter built some. milepoint.com/forums/threads/… – Hugh May 5 '14 at 12:14

At Cairo West, a joint Egyptian-US military airfield, we once used a fork-lift with an empty pallet to get military personnel on and off a 747-200 when the stairs weren't available. It took awhile. That was the method sometimes used to get JFK on Air Force One (when that airplane was a 707 and never in public view, although one picture got out) to avoid him exacerbating his back troubles by walking up the stairs.

Also, unless modified, 747-100s and -200s can be entered and exited from the ground if you're reasonably fit. At age 75 I could still do it, although I might groan a bit. We used that means on occasion, usually when the stairs had been pulled away, and we needed to get someone into the airplane and didn't want the delay of getting the stairs. Given these days of security concerns, I'm not comfortable with providing the details.

share|improve this answer
Not exactly private knowledge... ;) pprune.org/questions/… – Qantas 94 Heavy Mar 4 '14 at 0:36
@Qantas94Heavy So I see. Well, old farts like me are entitled to being excessively cautious. lol – Terry Mar 4 '14 at 0:40
Here is JFK entering Air Force One using a forklift and pallet. – Adam Davis Mar 4 '14 at 15:49

There are no rear entrances these days, but many smaller jets like the Avro-RJ, Bombardier CRJ series or Embraer regional jets have their own air-stair on the main (front left) door. On the smaller planes the door are hinged at the bottom and the stair are part of the inner side of the door, on the larger ones there may be folding stairs stowed beside the door. B737 can have those too, but it's optional, so many operators choose not to have them (and on second-hand aircraft the operator sometimes bother removing them, but rarely adding them back). I've never heard of them on A320 family as it's a lot higher.

You can get always out using the emergency slides and in cockpit they have a rope to climb down through the side window (where it's too high to jump from it) in case the cockpit door can't be used (happens sometimes).

However the only way in is using stairs. It's hard to imagine you wouldn't be able to scramble at least a ladder even at very remote landing strip where the plane has made an emergency landing. Regular landing will obviously not be done to a place without regular stairs (unless the plane has integral airstairs, of course) and if it was emergency landing you need to bring in mechanics and fuel to get the plane out, brining a ladder is not much extra trouble.

Edit: As Kevin noted below, many aircraft have engineering access hatch in or behind nose wheel well. Not an option for boarding passengers, but the crew can use it when they don't have stairs/ladder handy.

share|improve this answer
Not all EMB-145's have air-stairs. The ones operated by ExpressJet had the air-stairs removed and replaced with a door like you'd find on the larger jets. – casey Mar 3 '14 at 18:35
@casey: Large aircraft manufacturers are always willing to customize their products. For all the types that normally have integral airstairs if the operator does not want them, they can get normal door instead. – Jan Hudec Mar 5 '14 at 18:44
I was sure I had used built-in stairs on 737s, thought I was going senile. – NobodySpecial Apr 6 '14 at 20:38
@NobodySpecial: You might have. Some have it. – Jan Hudec Apr 7 '14 at 7:16
To be complete: On some large aircraft One can also get in via ground-based access hatches. For example, many Boeing aircraft have a ground-accessible E&E access hatch, which can be used in conjunction with the E&E access panel to enter the cabin from the ground. Needless to say, that is not a legal option for passenger entry, but it could potentially be used by crew, and is definitely used by maintenance personnel. – Kevin Cathcart May 5 '14 at 3:29

Some large aircraft (like Air Force One) have been specially modified to include air stairs so that they don't have to rely on equipment on the ground:

enter image description here

The air stairs are quite heavy though, so most airlines have made the business decision to remove them (to save money) and only operate out of airports that have appropriate ground facilities, including stairs. If something happened and the stairs were not available on the ground, they would simply divert or reposition to an airport with adequate facilities.

share|improve this answer
Perhaps a similar design was shown in Firefly en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_(Firefly_vessel) – user13107 Mar 4 '14 at 6:15

In Canada's northern areas older large planes are used for freight. The crew just bring along an aluminum ladder.

share|improve this answer
On a related note, here's an example of a ladder being used after a landing gear collapse. – David Richerby Apr 29 '14 at 11:18
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Very good answers but this image from @Qantas94Heavy comment link is self explanatory!

Climbing into a 747

share|improve this answer
lol. Air China seems just the airline where pax would probably be forced to enter through the nosegear :P – shortstheory Mar 5 '14 at 14:28
What are those in the red square marked area – Firee Apr 4 '14 at 13:08
@FabrizioMazzoni Do I look that stupid? I was referred to the req square marked area at the front, near the nose, below the windows.. Looks like some levers – Firee Apr 4 '14 at 16:48
@Firee They're pitot tubes. – Danny Beckett Apr 5 '14 at 5:48
@DannyBeckett Thanks.. Could you please elaborate – Firee Apr 5 '14 at 7:17

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.