That didn’t suck
The top of a Southwest Airlines passenger jet popped open at 36,000 feet, but no one was blown out through the hole. Why not?
A five-square-foot hole opened in the roof of a Southwest Airlines jet as it was cruising at 36,000 feet on Friday afternoon. Passengers reported hearing an explosive noise and feeling “air being sucked out” of the cabin, but the pilot was able to land the plane safely and there were no major injuries. Why wasn’t anyone blown through the hole?
Seat belts and safe distance. As the Explainer described six years ago, the phenomenon of explosive decompression is very real: People and objects can indeed be forced out of an airliner at cruising altitude when a large hole opens in its fuselage. This results from the substantial pressure difference between the external atmosphere at high altitudes and the air inside a pressurized cabin: When the cabin is breached, air rushes outward all at once. While such an event can involve thousands of pounds of force, it’s focused in the area immediately surrounding the hole. A passenger seated just a few rows from a five-square-foot hole could probably hold himself down without a seat belt. Anyone who was wearing his seat belt would be very unlikely to sail through the gap, regardless of location. (That is, assuming their seats remain bolted to the floor.) The few people who have slipped through holes not big enough to bring down a commercial aircraft — and there are a handful of famous examples — were located right next to the breach and weren’t wearing a seat belt low and tight across the hips.