You've all seen the movie



I mean, let's admit it. Doesn't everyone want a Captain Vernon Demarest at the helm of their aircraft? Think about it.

Dean Martin

. Yep, he is the one I want at the controls. I just want to make sure that martini is off to the side while he is trying to land.

Then again, there's Joe Patroni. Yes, indeed. I want to know that

George Kennedy

is down on the ground directing those aircraft employees to dig that snow even faster, all the while chomping on his cigar.

And don't we know that all pilots have affairs with flight attendants? We know this because Gwen, the lead flight attendant on Trans-Global so radiantly portrayed by

Jacquelyn Bisset

, is pregnant with the captain's baby.

And finally, since we all know these things are true, we also know what happens when something punctures the side of an aircraft fuselage. Or when a window or door is blown out. I mean, how many people do we have to see sucked out of an airplane in a movie before this makes a lasting impression?

Actually, I guess there are some people out there who don't believe what they see in movies. What a shame! And some of the nonbelievers are reporters no less.

Don't know if you caught it, but about two weeks ago, several media sources, including

Bloomberg News

, the

Miami Herald

, and

New Jersey's Newark Star-Ledger

, fell all over themselves with a story on how the flight engineer employed by



TheStreet Recommends

American Airlines

, working aboard a 727 flying from Miami to Newark, supposedly opened the door of the aircraft at 12,000 feet to retrieve a loose strap hanging outside.

I read several of the accounts (the reporter for the

Miami Herald

was actually on the plane) and each one was written as though that had actually happened.

Now, let me make one thing clear. Dean Martin and company have taught me well. Very well. At least about what happens when you have a hole open up in a pressurized cabin.

Let's put it this way. If you were on an aircraft and a door was suddenly opened at 12,000 feet, you would know it. And if you did not know that already, well, now you do.

But in addition to that -- I have more news for you. Opening a door of a jet aircraft cruising merrily along at 12,000 feet is no small task. In fact, it is nearly impossible. (Kinda like opening a car door at 300 miles per hour.)

Unfortunately, the news sources that presented this story as fact are woefully undereducated in the finer points of velocity and cabin pressurization (not to mention the fine art of film).

What actually happened was this: The wayward strap was discovered shortly after the plane took off from Miami. The pilot leveled the jet at 12,000 feet and depressurized the cabin so the flight engineer and a flight attendant could pull the loose strap back into the aircraft through the door cowling (the rubber seal around the door). The procedure is fully approved by the



This has been confirmed by the FAA, which took a look at the situation and clearly stated that the door had not been opened. Period. End of story.

Now, in defense of the passengers and the reporter who decided a door was opened in-flight, regardless of what the Captain told them later, I think it might have been a good idea for the captain to tell the passengers what he was going to do.

Then, when the cabin depressurized and the passengers felt their ears pop, there wouldn't have been an issue.

But what amused us was that this story was written as though there was no question that the door-opening had actually happened. There were none of the usual wiggle words, such as "supposedly" or "apparently" in the accounts that we read. And, of course, there were no words of contrition in the follow-up article that quoted the FAA saying no such opening occurred and the strap was pulled in properly.


Must we make viewing of the movie


mandatory for anyone who reports on this industry?

Holly Hegeman, based in Barrington, Rhode Island, pilots the Wing Tips column for At time of publication, Hegeman held no positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. You can usually find Hegeman, publisher of PlaneBusiness Banter, buzzing around her airline industry Web site at While she cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, she welcomes your feedback at