Oops: Southwest Passenger Locks Pilots Out Of Cockpit

Oops: Southwest Passenger Locks Pilots Out Of Cockpit

16

It’s not every day that an airline passenger accidentally locks pilots out of the cockpit… fortunately it happened while on the ground.

Passenger accidentally locks Southwest cockpit door

On Wednesday, May 24, 2023, a Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento (SMF) to San Diego (SAN) had a slight delay because the pilots got locked out of the cockpit.

How could this happen? Well, while the aircraft was at the gate, a passenger reportedly opened the forward lavatory door, and inadvertently pushed the cockpit door of the Boeing 737 closed. I can totally see how this can happen, since often the lavatory door and cockpit door are “hooked” together during the boarding process, just so they don’t keep slamming into one another.

When the cockpit door was inadvertently closed, the pilots hadn’t yet boarded, so there was no one in the cockpit. It’s not unusual for passenger boarding to start before the pilots get on the aircraft, especially on Southwest, given that the airline often operates “direct” flights, which have a stop, and passengers don’t have to deplane.

The pilots ended up gaining access to the cockpit by having some stairs pulled up to the cockpit window. The cockpit window was then opened (presumably it was unlocked), and the pilot climbed in that way. The flight only ended up being delayed by eight minutes.

How flight deck doors are ordinarily opened

Understandably, many people are puzzled by how aircraft engines are started, how cockpit doors are opened, etc. No, commercial aircraft don’t generally have keys that you open the cockpit door with, or that you use to start the engines. Rather there are procedures in place, and they just involve physical access to the aircraft and knowledge, and not any keys.

Below you can see an interesting training module for how to open the cockpit door of the Boeing 737. As you can see, there are different settings depending on the situation.

It’s still not entirely clear to me why accessing the cockpit via the window was the best option. It seems like you should be able to open the cockpit door from the outside, assuming no one inside the cockpit is denying access. Furthermore, if this was in fact the best option for accessing the cockpit, what would have happened if the cockpit window wasn’t unlocked? But the airline has confirmed in a statement that this is what happened…

Bottom line

It’s not every day you hear of a passenger locking pilots out of the cockpit, but that’s exactly what happened on a Southwest flight earlier this week. Passengers had boarded before the pilots, and someone tried to use the forward lavatory, but accidentally closed the cockpit door in the process.

This meant the cockpit was locked from the outside, so the crew had to get creative with cockpit access. Stairs were pulled up to the jet, and then the pilot climbed into the cockpit.

What do you make of this Southwest 737 cockpit incident?

Conversations (16)
The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. FlyerDon Guest

    It surprises me that both pilots can be out of the cockpit when passengers are on board. There’s still a chance of a fire, even when parked at the gate, plus open access to the cockpit doesn’t sound like a good idea either.

  2. Sean M. Diamond

    Is the entry via the cockpit window an approved and trained procedure in SWA's manuals? If not, will the FAA be investigating why an unprescribed access procedure was permitted to be used?

  3. STEFFL Gold

    FUNNY, how BOEING 737 secure Cockpit door is just ANOTHER fail of that company. :-) :-)
    Compared to Airbus Secure Cockpit Doors, that opens the other direction, things like that could NEVER happen, just because of the adjacent lavatory door.
    BOEING . . . should just focus on building Military planes in the future, they should have NEVER built any passenger jet at all to begin with.
    As sexy as a 747...

    FUNNY, how BOEING 737 secure Cockpit door is just ANOTHER fail of that company. :-) :-)
    Compared to Airbus Secure Cockpit Doors, that opens the other direction, things like that could NEVER happen, just because of the adjacent lavatory door.
    BOEING . . . should just focus on building Military planes in the future, they should have NEVER built any passenger jet at all to begin with.
    As sexy as a 747 might be, BOEING passenger jets are just a tiny bit updated Military planes.
    Starts with the wiring, cont. with the Cabin systems and doors and ends at the cockpit, MODERN is an unknown vocabulary at the Guys from BOEING!
    This Cockpit door setting is another good example! ;-o

    1. Eskimo Guest

      So Boeing should focus on military, not that they aren't.

      Therefore, Boeing should just strap passengers like Wile E. Coyote onto their flagship WMD?
      You're on to something, this ICBM has the range of A380 but can reach the destination in 30 mins.
      The only downside is you might land a few hundred yards off target, but being almost 25x Hiroshima, that shouldn't really matter.

      Now that's a future of travel.

    2. Tony the A&P mechanic Guest

      The AIRBUS just had a moron actually open the door at low altitude...800 feet .. So prescription was Not a factor.. However... This COULD NOT have been accomplished on a Boring because the door may have opened a crack but could not have been swung completely open because the Airbus door opens outward but stays parallel to the side of the fuselage.. So their wouldn't be the force of a 200 mile or hour wind...

      The AIRBUS just had a moron actually open the door at low altitude...800 feet .. So prescription was Not a factor.. However... This COULD NOT have been accomplished on a Boring because the door may have opened a crack but could not have been swung completely open because the Airbus door opens outward but stays parallel to the side of the fuselage.. So their wouldn't be the force of a 200 mile or hour wind keeping the door from swinging fully opened.... The Boeing door open inward.. And then swing outward .. But a 200 mile per hour wind would have made it impossible for him to get around the door and fall to his death... Even the Boeing over wing emergency exits that swing out and are spring loaded to swing the door upwards out of the way ... HAVE Locking systems that make opening them in flight IMPOSSIBLE because the locks are activated when their is no weight on the wheels... So the BOEING Planes must be on the ground for the overwing and other emergency exits to be opened .... So Stick that in your AIRBUS and smoke it..

    3. TONY THE A&P MECHANIC Guest

      Another clueless moron... Every time you change Any major component in an aircraft it has to go through brand new FAA flight testing and new pilot type ratings to fly the plane.... Boeing has kept the 737 as standardized for the last 50 to 60 years just to keep the aircraft standardized so it was little differences from flying one variant to the next... Making it the SINGLE Best selling passenger jet in the world...

      Another clueless moron... Every time you change Any major component in an aircraft it has to go through brand new FAA flight testing and new pilot type ratings to fly the plane.... Boeing has kept the 737 as standardized for the last 50 to 60 years just to keep the aircraft standardized so it was little differences from flying one variant to the next... Making it the SINGLE Best selling passenger jet in the world...
      So.... Just so you know... You can't just swap an led light fixture where their was originally an incandescent llighting system without an STC.... that stands for SUPPLIMENTAL TYPE CERTIFICATE.. That has to be rigorously tested and approved by the FAA before it can be changed to a newer system ... Not to mention the paperwork involved alone... And v that's just to change a light bulb... To upgrade an actual flight system the aircraft has to undergo completely new flight testing for a minimum of about two years if all goes well... But you might know something about it if you knew zz anything about commercial aircraft except that the airlines are always ripping their passengers off..... I have been an A&P mechanic for 30 years working on almost every commercial aircraft BOEING AND McDonnel Douglas Ever built... And a couple more from other manufacturers...
      WHAT'S YOUR BACKGROUND!

  4. Mike Guest

    so, fake news already arrived here as well.
    first, the window cannot be opened from the outside, so, access is not possible unless the window was open.
    second, the cockpit doors open to the inside of the cockpit.
    third, there is an emergency opening with an electronic code lock to open the door, especially after an accident to evacuate the pilots if they are uncautious. or, like maybe in this case, if...

    so, fake news already arrived here as well.
    first, the window cannot be opened from the outside, so, access is not possible unless the window was open.
    second, the cockpit doors open to the inside of the cockpit.
    third, there is an emergency opening with an electronic code lock to open the door, especially after an accident to evacuate the pilots if they are uncautious. or, like maybe in this case, if someone closed the door from the outside. if the plane doesn't have electric power, the locks will be open anyway and the door cannot be locked close.

    1. Bret Guest

      Sorry Mike, you're wrong. I've been a 737 Captain for a major airline for 15 years and this exact same thing happened to me (for the first time) a few weeks ago in MCO. If power has not been applied to the locking door system (pilots haven't powered the flight deck yet), you can't use the emergency entry code. You are correc that the door should open if the plane is not powered, but our...

      Sorry Mike, you're wrong. I've been a 737 Captain for a major airline for 15 years and this exact same thing happened to me (for the first time) a few weeks ago in MCO. If power has not been applied to the locking door system (pilots haven't powered the flight deck yet), you can't use the emergency entry code. You are correc that the door should open if the plane is not powered, but our latch got out of sequence on the power down and was stuck. And, the door opens outward into the cabin, not inward to the cockpit. In similar fashion, we had a mechanic pull up a ladder and access the flight deck through the window. The right side window on the 737 has an exterior "emergency access" handle that is flush to the fuselage. This is designed for rescue workers to be able to open the cockpit window and access the pilots in the event of an accident where the pilots become incapacitated. So, probably not fake news... and in fact, it's not that unusual for this to happen on occasion.

    2. George Guest

      I've been a mechanic on the 737 since 1987 and Mike is clueless on all three points. Uneducated and unknowledgable. Brett is right in what he is saying.

    3. TONY The A&P Mechanic Guest

      YOU ARE WRONG!! I HAVE BEEN A Aircraft Mechanic on Every single B-737 varient from the -100 series all the way up to the MAX... And EVERY SINGLE 737 Ever built has an emergency window handle on the right side of the airplane .. So emergency crews can open the window from the outside if the crew is incapacitated and locked in the cockpit...
      I absolutely LOVE when people spout off about things that...

      YOU ARE WRONG!! I HAVE BEEN A Aircraft Mechanic on Every single B-737 varient from the -100 series all the way up to the MAX... And EVERY SINGLE 737 Ever built has an emergency window handle on the right side of the airplane .. So emergency crews can open the window from the outside if the crew is incapacitated and locked in the cockpit...
      I absolutely LOVE when people spout off about things that they have no clue about...
      Every 737 Has this emergency window operation handle to open the the first officers sliding window from the outside even if the window is locked in the inside.. you can even climb out through it and lock the window from the outside if someone was so inclined ..
      I've climbed through them many times myself... climbing In and out...
      Stick to whatever you do know but I know you do not know anything about the 737....

  5. Jordan Diamond

    Back in the day, gate agents use to have a key for the aircraft types that flew into their airport (AA). So if this had happened, a gate agent could easily head down to the cockpit. Even the station manager or head ramper should have a key.

  6. Eskimo Guest

    Another human error. Imagine a freak accident when a pilot breaks protocol and gets lockout mid air.

    Full automation would eliminate this problem.

    1. Bagoly Guest

      The UK has just had a brilliant counterexample to your recurrent point.
      All the egates at immigration stopped working due to a system fault.
      Imagine what would have happened without humans able to man desks?

      https://news.sky.com/story/airport-e-gate-failure-could-be-risk-to-national-security-and-why-it-may-keep-happening-12891044

  7. DougG Guest

    Hmm, so there is a latch or controls of some sort on the outside of the cockpit window to enable someone to open it from the outside? Boeing had the foresight to install that in case they needed a way to get into the cockpit?

    Seems an edge case but what do I know. Love to hear more about how that came to be.

  8. Christopher gaff Guest

    Much like a bathroom on bus Greyhound bus driver has the key.so no one had a key.is security too much.

  9. Jay Guest

    Actually, there ARE keys. The system illustrated is not used (or not supposed to be) until the C/P door is closed just prior to push back. Whenever I get to an unmanned plane the door is usually closed and locked (it's automatic) and I use my cockpit key to get in. It's been that way since the system was installed and I've used it on the 757/767 and the A/C I'm currently a CA on,...

    Actually, there ARE keys. The system illustrated is not used (or not supposed to be) until the C/P door is closed just prior to push back. Whenever I get to an unmanned plane the door is usually closed and locked (it's automatic) and I use my cockpit key to get in. It's been that way since the system was installed and I've used it on the 757/767 and the A/C I'm currently a CA on, the 737.

    Only once or twice have I gotten to a plane where the door won't open and the code has to be used...because the previous crew forgot to disarm the system.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Bret Guest

Sorry Mike, you're wrong. I've been a 737 Captain for a major airline for 15 years and this exact same thing happened to me (for the first time) a few weeks ago in MCO. If power has not been applied to the locking door system (pilots haven't powered the flight deck yet), you can't use the emergency entry code. You are correc that the door should open if the plane is not powered, but our latch got out of sequence on the power down and was stuck. And, the door opens outward into the cabin, not inward to the cockpit. In similar fashion, we had a mechanic pull up a ladder and access the flight deck through the window. The right side window on the 737 has an exterior "emergency access" handle that is flush to the fuselage. This is designed for rescue workers to be able to open the cockpit window and access the pilots in the event of an accident where the pilots become incapacitated. So, probably not fake news... and in fact, it's not that unusual for this to happen on occasion.

5
Sean M. Diamond

Is the entry via the cockpit window an approved and trained procedure in SWA's manuals? If not, will the FAA be investigating why an unprescribed access procedure was permitted to be used?

2
George Guest

I've been a mechanic on the 737 since 1987 and Mike is clueless on all three points. Uneducated and unknowledgable. Brett is right in what he is saying.

1
Meet Ben Schlappig, OMAAT Founder
5,163,247 Miles Traveled

32,614,600 Words Written

35,045 Posts Published