On my recent flight to Ibiza, as I and the other passengers were boarding, there were many occasions where I could see right into the cockpit as the pilots and cabin crew were communicating back and forth for whatever pre-flight checks they were conducting. Being near the front of the queue at the gate, I was one of the first seated, the 10-20 minutes it took for the rest of the passengers to board was the time I refer to when I say I was able to see into the cockpit.

With it being my first flight in quite a few years, understandably I was extremely nervous. From the open cockpit to the smell of burning as the engines spooled up...

If we ignore terrorism, what is stopping a drunken passenger from, instead of turning right when they board at the front loading door, turn left and take a few steps into the cockpit, and if they were able to get into the cockpit, assuming they know absolutely nothing about the operation of a plane besides that pushing that pushing the throttles forward = more thrust = plane moves (faster), what damage could they do with a plane parked at a jetway or a plane parked out on the tarmac that requires a shuttle to drop passengers to the plane in order to board it.

If we introduce terrorism into the mix, what is stopping a group of strong men from forcing their way into the open cockpit past 1 or 2 cabin crew?


closed as primarily opinion-based by GdD, kevin, SMS von der Tann, Ralph J, J Walters Jul 4 '17 at 14:20

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ In my opinion much of the "security" is pure theater. A lot of the security is there for psychological reasons...to make you feel secure. I have no faith in the security theater we deal with as passengers, at least in the USA. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Jul 4 '17 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ In your scenario, where the drunk turns into the cockpit during boarding & pushes up the throttles... nothing happens at all. The engines aren't running while passengers are being boarded, and the starting process takes enough time that even if he hit the "start button" & then pushed the throttles forward, nothing much would happen then either. Having the drunken passenger throw up on you is truly a greater risk than this particular scenario. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Jul 4 '17 at 4:01
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    $\begingroup$ Hi. Welcome to Aviation.SE. I'm curious - "understandably I was extremely nervous" - it's not understandable to me, since I know that when I board a commercial flight, the safest part of my journey has just begun. Why would you be "extremely nervous"? $\endgroup$ – Simon Jul 4 '17 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ To put this into perspective, the last passengers killed on a UK operated flight died in 1989. Since then, approximately 36,000 people have been killed on the roads. So, the understandable nervousness would be the car or taxi journey to the airport. $\endgroup$ – Simon Jul 4 '17 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Simon I dont think I'm alone when I say that flying can be a nerve racking experience. The thought in the back of my mind was that "something could go wrong". $\endgroup$ – Ksery Jul 4 '17 at 11:06

Those guys would gain no more than they'd gain if they hijacked the bus taking you to the airport.

If fact they'd gain less as they'd have nowhere to go and there's a lot more (armed) police at the airport to take them down than there is in some remote place they could drive that bus to.

The greatest risk to airliners isn't people forcing their way into the cockpit on the ground who are among the passengers waiting to board. It's in the ground crew who can (at least in theory) bring aboard almost anything they wish (including bombs) with very little oversight (in fact this has happened in the past). And there security has been seriously tightened (and it needed to be) over the decades, making that scenario far harder. I won't say impossible, because nothing is impossible as long as there is a human factor involved anywhere in the chain, but bloody hard.

  • $\begingroup$ AFAIK, ground crew goes through security like everyone else - even security goes through security. $\endgroup$ – Sanchises Jul 4 '17 at 7:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Sanchises in theory yes, but that wasn't the case until quite recently. In practice, not so much. There are a lot of doors that simply open into secure areas using an employee pass. Not everyone has a pass that'll open it, but they exist. And vehicle gates (I've observed them) are often open with "known" cars and trucks just waved through. Heck, flocks of ramp workers are waved through when just holding up an employee pass (from a distance long enough the guard can't see anything except the colour, someone waving a coloured piece of cardboard could get through). $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jul 4 '17 at 8:43

It is a plane which transports passengers (>= 99% sane people) and a regular workplace for the crew, not a prison. If you are afraid of an open cockpit-door at ground, you should try to calm down and enjoy the journey. Life gives opportunities and risks. In my case I would always use the opportunity for a brief distant look at the cockpit and saying 'hello' to a pilot (if outside the cockpit and greeting passengers or chatting with the cabin crew), maybe even taking a picture if it is not disturbing.

Despite that, acpilot is right, security is mostly mere theatre.


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