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In the case of flight MH370, I think passengers on board would have long enough time to realise that something is wrong with their flight. I have a habit of carrying a compass with me when I travel abroad. If the plane is not heading in the general direction towards its destination once it reaches cruising altitude, then I would be worried. This is especially so for passengers on board flight MH370 when it appears that it is flying in the opposite direction for a very long time.

What can a passenger do if he realises that the plane is not flying in the right path, i.e. a possible suicide mission or hijack?

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    $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Airlines_Flight_93 $\endgroup$ – fooot Mar 27 '14 at 2:34
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    $\begingroup$ In the case of MH370 if the pilots were passed out, so were the pax. Even if the masks deployed, that is only 15 minutes of O2 and you are tethered to the mask. You aren't going to be able to do anything. $\endgroup$ – casey Mar 27 '14 at 2:50
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    $\begingroup$ If my pocket compass contradicted expected flying path, I'd double check with the Sun's position before doing anything else - provided that the Sun, stars or any other useful reference are visible. $\endgroup$ – Pere Feb 7 '18 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ re: "What can a passenger do if he realises that the plane is not flying in the right path, i.e. a possible suicide mission or hijack?": Note that a deviations from the "right path" does not necessarily denote something nefarious. There are several non-nefarious reasons: adverse weather deviations, diversion to another airport (due to weather or a technical problem), flying a holding pattern pending clearance for landing, avoiding proximity with other aircraft (rare), strategic lateral offset procedure (rare), etc. $\endgroup$ – summerrain Nov 22 '18 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ @rainbowtableturner Many of these examples would only explain a rather short term deviation from general direction to destination though. $\endgroup$ – Cpt Reynolds Nov 24 '18 at 18:49
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Okay, so, going with the idea that you have a compass (and also with the idea that this can be a general question, not necessarily about flight MH370). If you're heading from Tokyo, Japan to Seattle, Washington, USA (direct), then you could be reasonably certain the craft should be somewhere between headings 45 and 135. So if you notice the craft is on a heading of 270 (ie., clearly you're going in the opposite direction) and this direction has been sustained for say, an hour, I'd think it would be okay to at least ask the cabin crew what's going on.

As with any time you are raising a concern with the cabin crew, you should be polite. As has been stated, they are used to passengers being a bit nervous and, as a result, they can easily interpret belligerence as a sign of irrational fear. And, as you might guess, it's easy to ignore someone if you feel they are being irrational. So, if you want be taken seriously, be polite. You're far more likely to get an actual answer, or raise a valid concern even.

So, if you just ask, "why are we headed west instead of east" they may have a very simple answer like, "well, the pilot mentioned we might have to take an odd route to avoid some weather" or "this is the flight to Bombay India, how did you get on it?" Or, they may have no idea and be concerned themselves, so they go and ask their superior. Thus, goal achieved, you've alerted the flight crew :).

Either way, so long as you're polite and don't become insistent (or belligerent) that you are correct, I can't see any harm in just asking. And sometimes asking is what leads to a problem being solved so... I'd say go for it.

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Not only do most people have no clue about that direction they're supposed to be flying, the number of people alerting the crew of "wrong directions" from those that do and get nervous when the plane diverts to avoid a thunderstorm or simply switches to another airway that diverts from the direct course would quickly make the crew ignore any and all such comments from passengers.
Which is no doubt one of the reasons they don't like passengers using handheld GPS devices (quite apart from the blanket ban on anything that has an antenna).

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    $\begingroup$ "Which is no doubt one of the reasons they don't like passengers using handheld GPS devices (quite apart from the blanket ban on anything that has an antenna)." Where is such a ban in place? Certainly not in the U.S. They're not even banned under 10,000 ft. anymore in the U.S. I've used the GPS on my phone on board an aircraft numerous times. No one cared. It should be noted that GPS receivers are just that - receivers. They don't transmit anything, so they were never banned along with transmitting devices like cell phones and wifi. $\endgroup$ – reirab Sep 22 '14 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab: here is a list (as of 2010) categorizing airlines on whether or not they allow the use of GPS receivers in flight: gpsinformation.net/airgps/airgps.htm $\endgroup$ – Jacob Krall Sep 21 '15 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @JacobKrall Hmm... Interesting link, but it seems a bit dated. Many of the airlines on those lists don't even still exist. I'm especially surprised to see Northwest on there, since Delta bought them 7 years ago and even their brand name hasn't existed for over 5 years now. I suspect that the rise in smartphone usage (nearly all of which are GPS capable, at least in the case of the ones sold in the U.S. market,) almost any airline would allow it nowadays and most wouldn't know the difference even if they didn't allow it. A lot of them even show you the flight's position and velocity on the IFE. $\endgroup$ – reirab Sep 21 '15 at 16:47
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I concur with others that most passengers have no clue.

I flew from Toronto to Seoul. The flight headed northeast, paralleled the east coast of Ellsmere Island with Greenland visible off the right side, then on into the Arctic, making land over Siberia somewhere, further over Ulan Bator, across China and into Seoul. The north pole was always in the left hand semicircle RELATIVE BEARING. This was all due to the winds aloft on that day. This was always visible on the plane's installed in-flight information system. Perfectly normal flight. To a non-experienced aviator, this would seem like a nonsensical route possibly indicating a hijack situation, and fuel a lot of worry. Cabin crew should respond to questions of course, but in most cases there is no cause to worry. So I too have a concern that a passenger having convinced him/herself that the plane is off course will do something to jeopardize the safety of the plane, crew, and passengers.

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  • $\begingroup$ Bear in mind that many long-haul passenger flights have moving-map systems that show the passengers the flight's position and progress. Whilst I personally don't carry a compass (and even if I did, would be very unlikely to check it when flying as a passenger), I would almost certainly notice if we were heading the wrong direction for any significant period of time. I would likely assume we were having to divert and seek to confirm with cabin crew; any subsequent action would depend upon their response. $\endgroup$ – eggyal Mar 29 '14 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @eggyal: On a transpolar flight, how is the user of a magnetic compass to know in which direction Magnetic North should be? Magnetic compasses are very misleading to the layperson in the polar regions. $\endgroup$ – Skip Miller Apr 7 '14 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that most passengers have no clue, but that doesn't mean all passengers have no clue. If I were on that Toronto-Seoul flight and I saw that we were flying towards Washington, D.C., I'd definitely ask the flight crew what's going on. I'd also wave at the NORAD escorts. - lol $\endgroup$ – reirab Sep 22 '14 at 19:42

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