Why Don't Airplane Windows Roll Down?

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

The mechanics of airplane windows got some attention on the campaign trail this week after presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a remark at a Beverly Hills fundraiser over the weekend, saying "It's a real problem" that you can't roll the windows down in an airplane. He was talking about the recent experience of his wife, Ann Romney, on a flight en route to Santa Monica, when the crew declared an emergency due to an electrical malfunction. "When you have a fire in an aircraft, there's no place to go, exactly … and you can't find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don't open," Romney said. "I don't know why they don't do that. It's a real problem. So it's very dangerous. … Fortunately, there was enough oxygen for the pilot and copilot to make a safe landing in Denver." A New York Times reporter who was there later said "it was clear" that Romney was joking. A video clip including his remarks is posted online at MSNBC.

Others were quick to interpret the remarks as an example of cluelessness on the part of the candidate. "American media websites and blogs filled with mockery of [Romney]," according to the Telegraph, a London newspaper. Patrick Smith, of Ask The Pilot, told Atlantic blogger James Fallows that "the windows in an airplane don't 'roll down' because, for one, the plane is pressurized, and introducing a suddenly opened window would be somewhere between extremely inconvenient and catastrophically dangerous." He added, "You would THINK, considering how much time Mitt Romney must have spent on planes thus far in his lifetime, that he would have at least a vague grasp of where the oxygen in a plane's cabin comes from, and why the windows don't open." Fallows said critics should "cut Mitt some slack." Fallows said he has heard that Romney is "not a happy or comfortable flyer, and one who can always imagine things going wrong." He added that someone with this outlook "would naturally be all the more rattled by an emergency landing."