In a situation where the pilot realizes that weight of the aircraft is too high, can they dump luggage / cargo mid air, similar to dumping fuel?

  • 11
    $\begingroup$ For some reason I'm finding the image of an airplane pilot surreptitiously dumping the contents of the cargo hold to reduce weight hilarious! $\endgroup$ – Michael Feb 26 '15 at 16:38
  • 15
    $\begingroup$ And what's next, "Can airlines dump passengers or flight attendants mid-air"? Oh my, I'm having trouble breathing here... $\endgroup$ – Michael Feb 26 '15 at 16:41
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This would be a nice feature for handling yappy little dogs. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Feb 26 '15 at 17:27
  • 14
    $\begingroup$ Dear sir, your luggage is somewhere in Kansas. Sincere apologies, [signed] Delta. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Feb 26 '15 at 17:28
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @abelenky: In fact, in 2009 or 2010 an Emerates A340 with 300 passengers on board "got the weight wrong", did a tailstrike on takeoff and broke some things, and then dumped fuel to land again. There was no need to dump luggage. In fact, a mechanism to dump luggage sounds like a great way to make the airplane heavier and have less cargo capacity, plus points of failure. $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Feb 26 '15 at 19:26

No they can't. The cargo doors are secured and will not open mid-flight.

Cargo holds are usually pressurized so opening the door anyway would cause depressurization.

Also if the weight was too high the pilot should never have lifted off in the first place.

Then after you theoretically throw the stuff off board think about what happens after to the stuff. It will drop down hard probably on someone's roof.

Only some military cargo planes with a back hatch are designed to jettison cargo.

  • 11
    $\begingroup$ @CGCampbell for airliners it is no, for specially designed cargo planes it is yes. $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Feb 26 '15 at 14:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak AFAIK, those cargo planes also have people in the cargo bay to handle the drop (or to jump themselves, in the case of paratroopers); it's not something they can do from the cockpit. $\endgroup$ – cpast Feb 26 '15 at 19:16
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ I believe that the DC-10 had cargo doors that could open in mid-flight. Not that it was intentional! $\endgroup$ – dotancohen Feb 26 '15 at 20:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @jean That was via the stairwell in the tail cone from the passenger cabin, not the cargo hold. $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 26 '15 at 20:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Military cargo planes are designed to drop cargo (including humans) as regular operation, so I think it can't be counted as emergency dump. Just like road sander operation can't be called as "emergency jettisoning of cargo". $\endgroup$ – Agent_L Feb 27 '15 at 10:26

There are various examples in history where luggage and/or cargo was dump during flight to reduce weight:

Embraer EMB-110P1 Bandeirante, 29 July 1998:

To lose weight, the left overwing exit was opened and luggage of the passengers was jettisoned.

Lockheed L-149 Constellation, 29 May 1972:

Cargo was jettisoned, but the aircraft continued to lose altitude.


Today? No, not practical... aside from sudden depressurization, the high speed of the aircraft means that anything jettisoned from the aircraft stands a chance of striking tail surfaces with enough force to damage or destroy them.

Same goes for the cargo hold - it is also pressurized, with similar problems on sudden depressurization. Unintended opening of the cargo hold in flight has caused more than one crash, and several emergency landings.

In the early days of commercial aviation, dumping luggage due to low fuel was not unknown. In those days, aircraft were unpressurized, and flew through the weather, not over it. Aircraft speed was low, around 100-150kts, so things could be tossed out without risking damage to the tail. The lack of ILS at airports meant that those airports would close more frequently due to poor visibility. It was possible for an airliner, even with good fuel reserves, to run low on fuel if heavy fog closed all airports within the range of the aircraft. One way to keep the plane in the air longer was to dump luggage to lighten the aircraft.

In his book Fate Is The Hunter, Ernest Gann describes preparing to dump luggage from an ice encrusted DC2 - up to four inches thick in some places on the aircraft. They didn't take that step, but were prepared to.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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