A secondary cockpit barrier? How much is too much security?

by Janice Hough on September 4, 2013

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by as737700 Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by as737700


September 11 not only resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, it changed air travel as we knew it.

Discussing whether TSA and other new regulations have made us safer is beyond the scope of a simple post. But, sometimes, it really does seem like we are still in over-reaction mode. This extra cockpit barrier debate, in my opinion, is one of those times.

One post-September 11 change was a locked door between the passenger cabin and the cockpit. Which makes some sense. It not only protects the pilots from potential terrorists, but it could also protect against, for example, drunk and disorderly passengers.

As anyone who’s flown and been towards the front of the plane also knows, flight attendants will put a beverage cart barring passengers from the galley and front area of the plane when one of the pilots uses the restroom.

Now, however, a new bill in Congress proposes to go a step further. It would require a second cockpit door on commercial aircraft. The idea is that when a pilot opens the cockpit door to use the restroom, the flight attendants standing guard with the cart in the way are not a sufficient deterrent and that the plane is then vulnerable.

The bill, like many in Congress, has been stuck in a subcommittee since the spring. But if it were to pass, the cost would be nontrivial to refit every single passenger plane in America. Plus, it’s not like there’s that much room up where the cockpit is to put the additional door in any case.

In addition, while Congress put $100 million towards airline costs for installing the first security door, this second door would be mandated but not funded. This means, no doubt, another security surcharge.

For that matter, if it’s all about a brief moment that pilots would be at risk, should we hire armed guards to escort them on the plane? Taking it not that much further, since September 11 apparently involved using flight attendants as hostages, will some politician demand protection for them beyond the air marshalls we already have deployed?

I’m for keeping the skies as safe as possible. But, we have enough “security theater” as it is with TSA. And, we should remember that September 11 also happened in part because passengers assumed, based on history, obeying the hijackers would be the safest response. That won’t happen again.

The airlines, perhaps not surprisingly, are against the idea of a mandated second door; federal air marshalls like it. But what do you think, Consumer Traveler readers? Would a second door be more security theater or would it be a worthwhile investment in public safety?

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  • Tim Shuman

    Why do I think a cockpit door company is behind this latest security concern? Now would be a good time to invest.

  • mike anisfeld

    The double cockpit door thing, has been standard on El Al for years (perhaps even before 9/11)

  • Pilot_Dave

    You don’t seem to understand the reasoning behind this.

    It’s NOT about pilot security…it’s about cockpit security. If control of the cockpit is lost, the jet once again turns into a guided cruise missile/WMD.

    You don’t want to hear this…but everyone on a jet is expendable. The govt doesn’t want another 3,000 people killed on the ground.

  • wiseword

    Lots of money to be made here. Of course, the safest thing would be not to let any passengers onto the plane. That’ll show ‘em!

  • Skeptic

    The goal should be to prevent anyone from taking over the flight controls with a goal of flying the jet into land-based targets. Has there ever been an instance of terrorists overpowering a pilot or FA who has the single door open to enter or exit the cockpit? Keep in mind that there is always at least one pilot on the flight deck — more if there are jumpseaters — and there’s a nice sharp crash ax on the wall. (The fact these axes are basic cockpit equipment is what made me roll my eyes big time when a TSA employee chided my pilot husband, about to jumpseat home while I sat in coach, for having a button sewn into one of his pants pockets during a security check at SAN a year or two ago.)

    Instead of treating a symptom that may not exist, how about treating an obvious one: the poor or non-existent screening of post-security airport workers, aircraft catering crew, and the stuff they sell or load onto the plane.

  • Mark H

    It’s amazing to me that somebody as ignorant about aviation security, as this author seems to be, would be writing a column about it online. Secondary barriers have NOTHING to do with the pilots security and everything to do with cockpit security. Once the cockpit is breached, it’s all over. At that point the airplane has become a weapon. I am a pilot for the only US airline that already has secondary barriers installed, and I can tell you that they are indeed a far better deterrent than a beverage cart and a flight attendant. Perhaps this writer should find a topic to write about that she knows something about.

  • Mark H

    Actually, it’s a campaign that’s being led by the widow of one of the United pilots who was killed on 9/11. Nice try though.

  • janice hough

    Skeptic and Mark H., actually I talked to some pilots and FAs and by and large they agreed that they didn’t need the extra door. But the worker issue did come up. Also cargo.

  • janice hough

    Fair point, but the 9-11 hijackers got control of cockpits in part because they didn’t meet resistance from passengers… that won’t happen again. IMHO

  • Mark H

    Janice, I AM a pilot. I fly the 747-400 and I can tell you that a beverage cart is easily vaulted. Our secondary barriers aren’t. The cockpit door is opened many times per flight, particularly on long haul flights. This is the moment of maximum danger. Your article never mentioned any interviews, your main point seemed to be that it was ridiculous to protect the pilots. That isn’t the point. The Airline Pilots Association has been pushing for these since long before 9/11. They would have prevented that disaster and are NOT security theater like so much of the TSA is. Perhaps you should have spoken to pilots at the one airline who employs these barriers.

  • Ton

    so if there are 2 pilots 1 leaves for the toilet, the door closes behind him then there is no risk as anyone who tries still wont be able to get in the cockpit

  • Melissa Ballard Jones

    Is there such a thing as “too safe” on a plane?

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  • janice

    Mark H. Respect your opinion. But this wasn’t a long post so I didn’t go into detail, though actually it was inspired after reading an article about the bill, and then talking to a United flight attendant and pilot on a plane about it when I had been upgraded and was up front. And they thought it was overkill. (And didn’t mean to say it was just about pilots.)

  • Pingback: Flight attendants — still unsung 9/11 heroes

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