During an emergency solely related to aviation (ie not a medical situation), suppose that some airline passenger believes that he/she can help in the cockpit. Since the cockpit door is locked for security, how can he/she volunteer their services and enter the cockpit to try to help? I am guessing that someone with minimal flying experience (such as an amateur gamer of Microsoft Flight Simulator) can help.

This question presumes the ability of airline passengers to help. Here is a real-life example: According to the Mayday episode on Air France Flight 447, while attempting to recover from a stall, the first officer pushed his yoke up (wrongly), while the reserve first officer pushed his yoke down (correctly). This opposition in pushing nullified each other and the plane continued its fall in its stall.

The captain was out of the cockpit at the start of the stall. He returned afterwards (I don't recall exactly when), spent some critical time surveying the control panel, but didn't apprehend the problem in time. Might a passenger have helped to perceive the problem (without spending time examining the instruments)?

Please feel free to edit this post; I'm not an expert on aviation.

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    $\begingroup$ This question contains too many unrelated "sub-questions" IMHO. I also think the question about passengers helping out in case of an emergency is not even relevant. $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2013 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ Airline pilots normally have several thousand hours of experience. How can a passenger "straightaway" find out something pilots cannot? Wouldn't that passenger be intimidated by the immense number of controls in a cockpit? $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    Dec 19, 2013 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps this question is a bit too broad - an air crisis cannot be easily categorzed as such to give advice about how a passenger could help. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2013 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ This type of question is very hypothetical and due to the vast variations in types of emergency not answerable. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Dec 20, 2013 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ @LePressentiment furthermore, the number of incidents that get resolved just fine by the flight crew without passenger interference outnumbers the crashes by far. Passenger interference would likely affect the statistics in an unfavourable way. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Dec 23, 2013 at 21:11

1 Answer 1


The short answer is to sit down, shut up, and stay the heck out of the way. That's what I would do. If you can quietly help the one or two people sitting next to you do the same, you're doing your part.

Seriously, the last thing the flight crew needs in a flight emergency is extra distractions from passengers - especially those without directly relevant experience (e.g., an off duty airline pilot commuting home).

Less seriously, it's a common fantasy/daydream among private pilots that some weird emergency results in them taking over the controls. Pre-9/11, I had the opportunity to try landing a 747 in one of the airline's full motion sims. (I have zero relevant experience in flying something that big). On the first landing, all the big pieces came to a stop on or near airport property. On the second attempt, I think I got most of the pieces to come to a stop on or near the runway. I doubt many people would have survived either attempt.

My plan if this would ever happen in real life is to get on the radio & demand that an instructor tell me which buttons on the autopilot to push. If successful, I'd then go buy a lottery ticket before the crazy luck wears off :-)

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. In the case of Quantas Flight 32, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qantas_Flight_32, weren't there additional pilots (beyond the normal crew of 3) who helped? $\endgroup$
    – NNOX Apps
    Dec 22, 2013 at 5:57
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    $\begingroup$ In the case of QF32 there were 2 other senior Qantas pilots in the cockpit, a check captain, and his supervisor training him to be a check captain. During the emergency they pretty much shut up and let the main crew work the problem. The only thing they did was calculate runway length requirements. They were not passengers, and they were not off-duty pilots. $\endgroup$ Jan 28, 2014 at 5:22
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    $\begingroup$ The only real aviation incident I can think of offhand where a passenger that could fly the plane would have possibly made a positive difference in the outcome is United 93. It's not inconceivable that if someone could have flown the plane, that they could have incapacitated the hijackers and landed safely rather than crashing. There have also been incidents where one pilot in a passenger flight got sick and they've had another licensed pilot (not an ATP, just someone with a PPL) who happened to be onboard sit in the right seat to work the radios, read off check lists, etc. to help the pilot. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 30, 2014 at 6:34
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    $\begingroup$ Also, there has been at least one incident in a small commercial plane (a King Air twin turboprop) that only had one pilot where the pilot died (heart attack, IIRC) mid flight and a single-engine land private pilot that happened to be onboard did successfully land the aircraft. This YouTube video has the ATC audio recording. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 30, 2014 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ The United airlines flight, the "passenger" was a checkride instructor for that aircraft and probably one of the best in the world at flying a dc-10 $\endgroup$
    – ptgflyer
    Dec 15, 2014 at 14:43

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