Over the past year, there has been a rise in the number of passengers attempting to open emergency exits on flights. The accidents have led the South Korean government to amend the airline operators’ operating standards with a new regulation.
As per the latest regulation, airlines must provide a warning to passengers about opening aircraft doors while the aircraft is in flight. The law “was included in a draft amendment of the operating guidelines for airline operators made available for public review until December 14th,” according to JoongAng Daily, which is quoting South Korea’s Transportation Ministry. During this period, South Korean Airlines must make the announcement.
Foreign airlines are often required by ICAO requirements to abide by local laws. The government hasn’t said, though, if international carriers traveling to and from South Korea will also need to announce the change.
As per the Aviation Security Act of South Korea, travelers who interfere with emergency exits or impede the safety and functioning of the aircraft may be subject to a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
A series of similar incidents
In the past six months, there have been three such events in South Korea. The first happened in May, when a 32-year-old managed to unlock the Asian Airlines flight OZ8124’s emergency exit on its way from Jeju to Daegu. Later on, he received a five-year prison sentence.
The vast pressure difference between an airplane’s exterior and interior at cruising altitude usually makes it hard to open an emergency escape while the aircraft is in flight. But a few minutes before the landing, the passenger tried to open the door.
A month later, there was another incident with a drunken 19-year-old who tried to open the emergency escape on a regional flight from Cebu to Incheon. After being detained, the passenger received a three-year prison sentence.
The latest incident happened on Thursday when a 26-year-old passenger attempted to open the emergency exit on a Korean Airlines flight from New York to Icheon. When they arrived, crew members quickly overpowered her and had her detained. The passenger was under the influence of methamphetamines, as the police eventually disclosed.
It could seem like a half-measure to add another safety announcement, especially in light of Asiana Airlines’ decision to suspend selling tickets for its emergency escape seats as a precaution. Since it would have an impact on earnings, many airlines will be hesitant to implement such a drastic move. Since upgrading to emergency escape rows is one of the most popular ways to experience additional comfort without upgrading cabins, passengers may also be opposed to the idea.
Airlines will need to thoroughly screen customers who choose to sit in the emergency rows as a short-term preventive measure. Manufacturers will need to create impenetrable emergency exits that won’t impede evacuation in the interim. Airlines will have to rely on the expectation that travelers won’t act strangely until then.