With the current news about the aviation industry, it's a bit scary to travel by flight. But I have no choice as I need to go back home. :)

So now I'm thinking that while I'm inside the flight, if I felt:

  • The flight seems to be going the wrong way, i.e. a totally different path
  • It sounds like something terrible is happening inside the cockpit
  • Someone amongst the passengers is trying to hijack the flight using a weapon, whether chemical, gun or bomb etc.

What should I do?

  • I think the question is too broad to answer, it totally depends on the situation and your capabilities.
    – Simon
    Mar 27, 2014 at 8:39
  • 2
    see also aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/2794/…
    – AakashM
    Mar 27, 2014 at 9:44
  • 18
    I've been on several planes with moving maps which have shown us going the "wrong way", but always that was due to avoiding weather or air traffic restrictions, never the pilot being lost / confused / other. I fear you'd get lots and lots of false positives!
    – Gagravarr
    Mar 27, 2014 at 10:35
  • 5
    You should also note, that your notion of the wrong direction may be completely, well, wrong. A plane may fly in the direction considered opposite in order to catch air current, or opposite, to omit air current blowing in the direction opposite to desired etc. Mar 27, 2014 at 12:28
  • 8
    If you think flying is scary, you had better not ever get into a car.
    – Almo
    Mar 27, 2014 at 13:13

2 Answers 2


First, I believe you are overreacting to the current situation, all I'm aware of is the disappearance of flight MH370, and I believe that will eventually prove to have a tragic but non-malicious explanation, with an accident, heroic pilots (and maybe a touch of government bureaucratic incompetency thrown-in during the search, not that it would have probably mattered).

But that's one flight, there are tens of thousands of flights a day, the chances that you will be on a flight that has a serious incident are minuscule and even less chance that you'll be injured on such a flight.

With that said, I'll answer your questions.

What should you do if: The flight seems to be going the wrong way, i.e. a totally different path?

Nothing. You are almost certainly wrong (direction, etc, can be difficult to judge in flight with no landmarks) and if you're not there's is almost certainly a very good reason for what is happening. The passengers will be informed when it is possible to do so, although that's not likely to be immediately. You can, politely, ask the cabin crew if you're worried but they may know no more than you. Doing anything rash may cause other people to think you're up to something, or incite panic in the plane, or generally create a situation you want to avoid.

What should you do if: It sounds like something terrible is happening inside the cockpit?

Nothing. Probably. Buckle your seat belt. On the off chance the cabin crew haven't noticed then inform them. You'll not be able to get into the cockpit, and I'm reasonably sure unless there's explosion or gunfire you wouldn't hear a commotion from the cockpit anyway. After that follow instructions from the cabin crew. Trying to access the cockpit without being explicitly told to do so is going to get you in more trouble and potential cause more reaction. If there is something going on you're likely to distract the pilots and the crew from dealing with it.

Note, if you're a doctor or coincidentally a pilot rated to fly the current aircraft it might be wise to let the cabin crew know that when the opportunity arises. Just in case. Although if they need one of either they'll ask (or they'll already know).

What should you do if: Someone amongst the passengers is trying to hijack the flight using a weapon, whether chemical, gun or bomb etc.

Probably nothing. This really depends on the circumstances, the advice used to be to comply. Most hijackings landed and were resolved on the ground (although not always bloodlessly), doing anything in the air was a much bigger risk. Pilots and crew would have followed this rule.

However after 9/11 it's clear than some hijackings have no chance of a positive resolution and at that point you may want to consider acting. However, you have to ask yourself -- am I absolutely sure I understand what's going on? do I have the ability / capability to do anything? is someone else more qualified (i.e. an undisclosed air marshal) waiting for an opportunity to do something?

I recall reading some advice somewhere, but I can't remember where, but basically if you are absolutely positive that the flight has been hijacked and is not landing in one piece then you should start trying to work together with other passengers and crew, pass notes, use hand signals, coordinate, assess the situation and attempt to overpower the hijackers as one force. Of course hijackers also know this which is why it's fairly unlikely they'll try that again unless they have someway to subdue the passengers.

If the guy beside you is trying to light his shoe or underwear on fire then absolutely you should stop him. I also doubt terrorists will try that again.

Again, unless you're absolutely positive that there's no chance of getting out of the situation alive you should comply and go along with the demands. Fighting with people with guns, bombs or chemicals at 30,000ft is a good way to make a bad situation worse.

But let me re-iterate my first point -- the chance of this happening to you (or anyone) is very small indeed. You can see some US stats here, I can't find a good link for global statistics, but you're more likely to get hit by lightening than die in a plane crash.

  • Anyone have good links for global number of flights / accidents? I can't find anything globally and I suspect my 'tens of thousands of flights a day' up there is conservative.
    – SpaceDog
    Mar 27, 2014 at 10:22
  • 8
    From IATA I learn there were "2.98 billion [passengers] carried in 2012". From Aviation Safety Network I learn there were 475 accident fatalities that year. 475 out of 3 billion makes for a pretty safe activity, I'd say.
    – AakashM
    Mar 27, 2014 at 10:29
  • @AakashM thanks for the info, so yeah, I think my hit by lightening analogy is pretty safe (odds in one year in the US was 1/700,000 says here: news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/06/…)
    – SpaceDog
    Mar 27, 2014 at 10:57
  • 24
    Your Life Is Not A Movie™
    – Gareth
    Mar 27, 2014 at 11:47
  • 5
    United Airlines makes air traffic communications available to passengers on Channel 9, mostly for aviation buffs. One of the chief complaints by United pilots is that passengers with essentially zero knowledge of the operation of a commercial jetliner will second-guess the pilot— why s/he made a particular turn, or requested a particular altitude, or didn't report a particular landmark. I have to say the likelihood of something going wrong and that a sole passenger would be the first one to notice would be most extraordinary.
    – choster
    Mar 27, 2014 at 14:18

I think there's probably not much you can do:

  • If you have a mobile phone, you can always try to contact someone, but it seems the chances of having network coverage are rather slim. You could hope that whoever took over the plane forgot to shut down the in-flight phones and call somebody with those.
  • Your chances of disturbing the pilot when he is in the cockpit is rather low. Entering the cockpit is not that easy. If you could somehow depressurize the cabin (by crashing a window maybe), you could theoretically force the pilot to go to lower altitude as even his oxygen mask won't last forever (I assume). I'm not sure if it's possible to break a window and it would be suicide mission as your oxygen will be depleted first but at least the chances of somebody on the ground noticing will be higher. (Not sure if that would actually work).

So I think overall there's nothing much you can do. I'd guess you just have to buckle up and hope that you survive.

If you know that something bad is going to happen, you could always record what's happening in the cabin or write it down in the hope that if they find it in the wreckage, it will help to reconstruct what happened. Of course helping the investigation into the incident might not be the first thing on your mind when you are about to going to crash.

  • Other than saying bye, the best-case result of phoning someone in the case of a 9/11 type incident is that your flight gets blown out of the sky by an air-to-air missile before it can hurt someone on the ground. You're already dead as far as the guy in the fighter jet is concerned. Mar 28, 2014 at 2:59
  • 1
    Well, in the case of a 9/11 type incident, if I'm going to die anyway, I'd rather the plane is targeted by a fighter jet and crashes somewhere out of the way instead of it flying into some building/whatever the target was and killing a lot of other people, right?
    – drat
    Mar 28, 2014 at 8:54
  • 2
    Most of us will fight, like the passengers on the Chinese plane who beat the would-be hijacker to death. That's why 911 won't happen again in the same way. Mar 28, 2014 at 10:42

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .