Alaska Airlines Passenger Tries To Open Boeing 737 Cockpit Door 3 Times

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Summary

  • An unruly passenger, who was a student pilot, attempted to open the cockpit doors on an Alaska Airlines flight three times.
  • Eventually, the flight attendants, with the help of off-duty law enforcement officers, restrained the passenger.
  • Such actions can carry a jail sentence of more than 20 years.

An unruly passenger attempted to open the cockpit doors of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900ER three times, court documents showed. The flight safely landed at its destination, with the traveler being restrained during the coast-to-coast flight on March 3, 2024.

Student pilot opening cockpit doors

According to court documents, first reported by The Daily Beast, a passenger was onboard Alaska Airlines flight AS322 between San Diego International Airport (SAN) and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) on March 3.

The filing, submitted a day after the event, described that the passenger, who was also a student pilot, attempted to open the cockpit doors three separate times. To prevent a further escalation, the flight attendants requested the help of off-duty law enforcement officers, who restrained the defendant in flex cuffs and sat next to him for the remainder of the flight.

Photo: GingChen | Shutterstock

When the cabin crew asked the unruly passenger why he tried to access the cockpit, they replied that they were “testing them.” The flight deck was locked down for the rest of the flight. Flightradar24 data showed that the pilots never squawked 7700, which would have indicated a general onboard emergency.

The court filing also said that to prevent the traveler from attempting to open the cockpit door again, one of the flight attendants had moved from their assigned area to the front of the 737-900ER, assisting their colleagues with the unruly passenger. The cabin crew also put out a beverage cart as a barrier to block the cockpit.

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The aircraft was preparing to depart Chicago for a flight to Los Angeles.

Aircraft flying instructions

After flight AS322 had landed, the traveler allowed authorities to search their luggage. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents found multiple notebooks with instructions on how to operate an aircraft, including during the takeoff, cruise, and landing phases. The passenger also had their student pilot with them.

However, the filing did not detail whether the notebooks included operating procedures for the Boeing 737-900ER or a non-commercial aircraft used by flight schools to train student pilots. Furthermore, the court document did not indicate whether the defendant was part of the Ascend Pilot Academy, the Alaska Airlines-affiliated flight school.

An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900 just after take off.

Photo: Minh K Tran | Shutterstock

The document concluded that the passenger violated Title 49, Section 46504 of the US Code, which read that assaulting or intimidating flight crew or flight attendants of the aircraft, which can also interfere with the performance of their duties, could be imprisoned for more than 20 years and also fined. Intent to disrupt a pilot or cabin crew’s abilities to perform their duties also carries the same penalty.

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Incidents have declined nearly 80% compared to 2021’s peak, though remain significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Almost shutting down the engines

In October 2023, a jump seat occupant on Alaska Airlines flight AS2059 between Seattle Paine Field International Airport (PAE) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) attempted to shut down the engines of an Embraer E175 aircraft.

Alaska Airlines SkyWest Embraer E175.

Photo: Michael Rosebrock | Shutterstock

The flight, operated by Horizon Air, was forced to divert to Portland International Airport (PDX), landing safely at the airport shortly after the incident. The incident prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to establish the Mental Health and Aviation Medical Clearances Rulemaking Committee (ARC), which will provide recommendations to the regulator on removing the barriers preventing pilots from caring about their mental health.

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