A Delta Air Lines flight taxiing for takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia airport (LGA) was halted when a man traveling on the aircraft forced open the front cabin door, causing the emergency slide to deploy. He was joined by a woman, his traveling companion, and their 8 month-old Great Dane puppy, all of whom left the plane by jumping out and onto the slide. The couple, a 31 year-old man and a 23 year-old woman, was taken into custody by airport police shortly after exiting the plane.
All commercial airliners are equipped with emergency slides for use by passengers and crew if they suddenly need to exit the plane on which they’re traveling. These slides are carefully packed into special compartments associated with aircraft doors as well as emergency exits and are very easy to use, which is by design. Most such emergency slides only require the simple pull of a lever to activate them, at which point they instantly inflate, allowing an airliner’s passengers and crew to leave the plane in an amazingly short amount of time. If an airliner has been forced to make a water landing, these slides can sometimes also double as very large life rafts.
Passenger aircraft emergency slides are regularly and very carefully inspected to ensure they’re ready to deploy if they’re ever needed. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of such slides are never deployed or needed and when they are, such as after this most recent event at LGA, they’re thoroughly inspected, repaired if required, and then repacked into their compartments. Also, the aircraft door or emergency exit from which the slide was deployed is also closely examined and inspected for any damage the slide’s deployment may have caused. Only after all such inspections have been carried out, and the aircraft certified for flight once again, will the plane which experienced the deployment of its emergency slide be put back into passenger service.
Deploying an airliner’s emergency slide can be an expensive proposition. Though the cost of inspecting, repacking and possibly repairing a slide varies depending on its size and design, an April 2016 Business Insider report says it can run anywhere from $6,000 to $30,000 or more to put one back into operation after it’s been deployed. Factor in the downtime costs created for an airline when one of its revenue-generating planes is out of service and sitting on the ground for possibly a day or more while technicians inspect for damage and then reinstall the slide and it’s easy to see how costly an emergency slide deployment can be.
Commercial airlines never compromise on the safety of their passengers and they take very seriously what happens if an emergency slide inflates and deploys. In cases such as we just saw in New York, both the Federal Aviation Administration as well as the National Transportation Safety Board may also become involved and carry out their own safety investigations, if only to see if any procedures can be altered or changed to prevent such occurrences in the future.
Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 450-plus commercial airports.