On Wednesday night, a violent passenger aboard a jetBlue flight from Boston to San Juan charged towards the flight deck screaming in Spanish and Arabic that he wanted to be shot. At the same moment that this individual was charging down the aisle, one of the pilots opened the door to the cockpit.
The potential for catastrophe cannot be understated. A disaster was only averted when a quick-thinking flight attendant stepped into the path of danger and managed to push the assailant off course.
The flight attendant was strangled and kicked in the chest as he tried to subdue the passenger. It took two pairs of flex cuffs and at least six seat belt extenders, as well as the flight attendant’s necktie to successfully restrain the passenger.
Pilots have reacted with both alarm and dismay at what could be politely referred to as a ‘near miss. Had the airline industry listened to their decades-long calls for more flight deck security, there would have been no chance that this passenger could have got into the cockpit, they claim.
Admittedly, the flight deck is already well protected with bullet and grenade proof doors standing in the way of potential terrorists and the cockpit. A deadbolt system that can only be released from the inside makes the flight deck even more secure.
Even emergency access codes inputted on the outside can be overruled by the pilots, should a flight attendant be forced under duress to request emergency access.
The security is impressive and has so far prevented any “nefarious breaches” of the flight deck as the FAA describes them.
But pilots want a SECOND flight deck door and Congress agrees with them. In fact, legislation that paved the way for secondary flight deck barriers was passed back in 2018, yet the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is yet to implement the necessary rulemaking.
“The loss of four U.S. airliners and nearly 3,000 lives on September 11, 2001, was a terrible demonstration of the vulnerability of the flight deck,” wrote Captain Joseph G. DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association in a recent letter to the House Transporation Committee.
A secondary flight deck barrier would sit between the cockpit and the passenger cabin, allowing pilots to open the door to the flight deck without any fear that a passenger could take advantage of this momentary lapse in security.
The idea certainly isn’t a new one. In response to the tragic Germanwings crash in 2015, one airline contacted French accident investigators with information about a secondary flight deck barrier they used on their Airbus A320 aircraft.
“Yet, the FAA continues to allow a known security threat to jeopardize passengers and flight crews on U.S. airliners,” warns Capt DePete.
Will this be the incident that finally spurs the FAA into action? If it is, the rulemaking will only apply to brand new airplanes and there won’t be any pressure on airlines to install secondary barriers on their older aircraft.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.