Were airlines negligent in 11/9 attack?

Was there ever any action taken against the airlines for negligence whos planes were hijacked in the 11 September terrorist attack? Was a class action ever organised?

Leaving the door to the cockpit so poorly protected seems like an obvious breach of duty of care and creats a huge foreseeable risk.

Does leaving the aircraft so vulnerable to an forseeable threat mean that the airline company can be found negligent in the first place? Any lawyers?

It seems similar to leaving an explosive factory unsecured at night.

Sure if there were adequate systems in place to minimise the risk, which were consequently circumverted, then I would think that negligence could be mitigated, but there was practically no security to the cockpit (from my understanding).

This is a question I have wondered about for a while and have just been reminded by this GD thread. I have never seen it answared anywhere. I did a search a while ago but found nothing.

Things to consider:

  1. An airliner is a secured environment to start with.
  2. Industry practice did not include secured cockpit doors.
  3. I know of no prior incidents where secured cockpit doors would have made a difference.

Also, how many passengers would have been killed before the pilots would open the hypothetical secured door anyway, considering that prior hijackings were not suicidal?

I was thinking more about the threat to people on the ground.

Negligent? Probably. For example:

O’Hare airport was closed down for several hours a few years before 9/11 because of a person who was where they shouldn’t have been. They were going to beef up security but of course nothing ever changed. These kind of things have been going on for years but nothing ever changed until after 9/11. O’Hare used to let anyone at the gate, even if you didn’t have a ticket (insane!). They’d check photo IDs but that was useless because anyone could be at the gate so you could exchange tickets with a friend if you wanted. Miami International on the other hand has had very good security for years. I expect that the situation at O’Hare was similar to many other airports in the country (especially the older ones like those on the East coast).

There are about 100 families who opted not to take the settlements and are now suing.


I think the point is that if you want the pilots to open the cockpit door, you need only kill or threaten to kill a few passengers and the pilots will open the door.

I keep seeing this assumption over and over that the pilots are going to turn into “cowboys” and go rescue the people in the back.

It’s a false assumption, for several reasons:

  1. It’s beaten into your head over and over and over in flight traing that your number one priority over all else is to fly the airplane. In stressful situations, training tends to take over, which would tend to keep the pilot in his/her seat.

  2. If the pilots are injured or killed there is no one to fly the airplane, which, in a big jet, likely means death for everyone on board. The pilots know this. Thus, perserving their life and limb takes precedence over saving cute blond attendant in coach from having her head sawed off - if she dies that’s a tragedy. If everyone dies, that’s even worse. This will also make the pilot(s) hang back from physical battle.

  3. The above assumption also seems to go along with the assumption that all airline pilots are 6 foot 6 (that’s two meters for you metric types), 30 years old, and male. They aren’t. In fact, very, very few are. Female pilots, physically smaller pilots, and older pilots would all be reluctant to enter into a fray with young, fit hijackers. If I myself ever had the misfortune to be hijacked I’d have to come up with a different strategy than simply head-on attack, being small, female, and pushing 40. If I win, it will be through brains, not brawn.

I’d also like to point out that before Sept 11 the official line from both the airlines and the FAA was to cooperate with hijackers. While that seems nuts today, before 2001 that strategy tended to keep the greatest number of people alive and uninjured. Sept 11 changed the rules.

I’d also like to mention that pilots had been calling for reinforced cockpit doors since the 1970’s - the airline industry, however, kept saying that was too expensive, would destroy their profits, bankrupt them, make them uncompetitive, etc., etc. Penny wise and pound foolish, as we know - how much did losing 4 big jets, 4 flight crews, and a bunch of passengers cost them? How much is it going to cost them once the lawyers get done? Grounding all air traffic for several days didn’t help the bottom line, and neither did the bad publicity. Guess the stronger doors would have been a bargain, compared to that, ay? But the fact the pilots have been wanting the better doors for three decades should be an indication that no, they don’t really want to go back in coach and play hero.

I know several airline pilots, and they all are quite determined that the cockpit door will not open for anything. This isn’t Hollywood, folks, it’s real life where the folks in the front seat know that if the Bad Guys get control of the airplane not just everyone aboard but a lot of other people could be killed, and to prevent that the door must stay closed no matter how horrible the screams on the other side.

Amplifying on this point, the airlines weren’t responsible for airport security (i.e. x-raying bags and frisking people); that was handled by contracted security companies. (Securicor Plc’s Argenbright unit at Dulles and Newark airports, Securitas AB’s Globe Aviation Services Corp. unit at Logan.)

According to the most recent mentions I can find in news stories, both from the end of 2002, Argenbright has been served with about two dozen lawsuits related to Sept. 11 and Globe Aviation has been named in more than 30.

Of course, as has been pointed out by others, the real weapon on Sept. 11 was surprise. None of the physical weapons carried that day by the hijackers was illegal under the FAA regulations that were in effect at the time.

In our ridiculously litigious society, it would not be inconceivable that lawsuits would cripple the aviation industry in this country. As it is, things aren’t looking too good, specifically.

The 9/11 style attacks weren’t unknown prior to 9/11 on the conceptual level, the problem was/is trying to prevent such attacks. Clearly the public would have balked at the necessary security measures, so here we are. Hopefully our leaders and security personnel will do what’s necessary rather than popular.

I’m not sure I’m right on this one, I’m sure the SDMB folks will correct me if I’m wrong. :slight_smile: Didn’t at least some of the hijackers enter the system through Portland Maine? I know two of the flights involved originated from Logan, but I have a hazy memory of reports that some of them cleared via Portland, and from what I’ve seen of the system (quite a bit of traveling), once youu were cleared, you were not rescreened on connecting flights. Not saying they didn’t muck things up, but come on, who really would have thought that boxcutters would have been a “deadly” weapon to be taken seriously.

I say the issue on the boxcutters, as I used to travel regularly with a “Leatherman” tool, and it’s an important tool that I use on business… now if I’m traveling by air, I need to check it (the leatherman, as it has a knife) and all my other tools. Something that is better to be avoided (checking) if possible. (I know, it’s not possible now).


That’s not the assumption at all. As you noted, the best strategy on 9/10 was to cooperate. Let’s say they had secure cockpit doors on 9/11. Then the terrorist says “Open the door or I shoot the passenger in seat 1A!” (pause) BANG. Repeat for seat 1B, then 1C, etc. Even if they had had secure doors on 9/11, the pilots would have opened them.

Yes, and their assumption would be that the aircraft would be hijacked and diverted to some airport somewhere, not that it would be flown into a high rise building.

Question for Broomstick and other pilots: There has been a lot of speculation about what airliner pilots could/might do in a desperate 9-11 situation. One involves putting the plane into such abrupt maneuvers that the hijackers (and everyone else who wasn’t belted in) would be plastered to the ceiling. Another involves strapping on your own oxygen mask and then suddenly decompressing the cabin, sending everyone into dreamland. Would these tactics really work? Are there other things you could do from the cockpit that might disable hijackers? Also, what would you think about arming cabin attendants with NON-lethal weapons? If the cabin crews on 9-11 had had police batons and pepper foam (which doesn’t vaporize like pepper spray) they would have been better armed than the bad guys.

I’d be really surprised to learn that Boeing has a handy button in the cockpit designed to ‘depressurize the cabin and kill or maim all your passengers’.

Or the [Release Fentanyl Fog] button. :slight_smile:

Thanks for that link Eleusis.

Broomstick - It seems like a good policy to continue to cooperate with the hijackers, just dont let them into the cockpit.

Right after 9/11 (9/17 as we were waiting to get home) I spoke with a airline pilot about maneuvering the plane in the event of a hijack. His comment was that no hijacker could get to the flight deck if they could not stand up. If you doubt this don’t forget that NASA’s vomit comet is a KC-135 AKA a Boeing 707, and that Tex Johnston did an aileron roll in the prototype of the 707 called a Dash-80.

I didn’t say they were great ideas. But they didn’t originate with me. I was asking experienced pilots to comment on concepts that have become part of the common discussion about air terrorism.


Without much altitude, I doubt there would be a lot you could do.

I tried to reply last night, but the hamsters ate my post. Let’s try again. I’ll try to hit some of the questions about anti-hijacker flying:

Well, no, there’s no “sleepy gas” button. Even if there were, you could easily wind up with the situation at the Moscow Theater hostage crisis - killing a lot of innoncents. I’ll deal with the issue of killing the passengers along with the hijackers in a bit. Even if you had such a knock-out gas system, you’d have to worry about hazards to maintenance workers and malfunctions that might trigger it when you don’t want it to work.

But for depressurization… You know, pressurized airplanes are not hermetically sealed, air goes and out all the time. What makes it pressurized is that the goes in faster than it goes out. Now, I don’t fly pressurized airplanes but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was some sort of emergency release on the outflow valves that would quickly depressurize the airplane (I’m thinking if the pressurization mechanism malfunctioned and overpressurized the airplane you’d need some way to deal with that). But as I said, these are not my airplanes. Nonetheless, let’s take it as a given that such a thing is actually feasible in a typical Boeing/Airbus, just for the sake of argument.

There you are at 30,000 feet. The pilot does the deed and the plane depressurizes. Well, all those emergency oxygen masks are going to drop, and a savy hijacker will simply grab one. Then what? Fly around until the very limited emergency oxygen supplies are exhausted? (There’s only enough to last you until the pilot dives to a lower altitude, plus a small safety margin). Sure, that would knock everyone out - and about 5-10 minutes later they stand a good of being dead from lack of oxygen, much like the folks who die after crawling into airplane wheel-wells. Certainly, the elderly, and those with heart and lung problems will be at extremely high risk. Decompression can also cause the bends, which is not only hideously painful (although if folks are unconcious they won’t notice that) but can cause permanent disability and death. I’ll leave out the bit about the belching and farting - that’s embarassing, but not likely to kill anyone. Anyhow, the point I’m circling here is that the effects are not limited to the hijackers. The question becomes - does the situation justify killing some or all of the other folks on board? (And just imagine the lawsuits…)

Yes, this is a possible option. Extreme manuvers is something all pilots do at one time or another, usually by accident in early training :slight_smile:

Yes, a Boeing is, in some ways, much tougher than it has to be. However, they are not engineered to aerobatic standards (able to withstand at least 6 positive g’s and 3 negative g’s) NASA’s vomit comet is flown by pilots trained in very specific manuvers to generate zero g’s, which do not stress the airframe at all, and to pull out gently not only to spare the airplane but to also minimize chances of injury to those in the back flying around. If you’re doing this to stop hijackers you won’t be gentle. Also, Tex’s little stunt sent the Boeing engineers into a tizzy - they hadn’t considered the effects of such a thing on their airplane. However, Mr. Johnston was a very capable aerobatic and test pilot who could perform such a manuver with precision and minimal stress on the airplane.

Stunt flying, however, is NOT required to get a pilot’s license and the airlines, for understandable reasons, do not want anyone practicing in their airplanes. In the hijacker scenario you would have someone who likely has little or no training in “unusual manuvers” performing them. Leaving aside for a moment the problem of injuring or even killing passengers who aren’t strapped down along with the hijackers, you have to consider the potential effect on the airplane. It is possible to overstress ANY airplane if you get rough enough with it, and the results can range from bent wings to mid-air disassembly. Sure, the pilot puts it into a dive - and the nice, clean aerodynamics of the plane allows it to build up ferocious speed (airliners are capable of exceeding Mach 1 in a dive, and have done so). If the pilot pulls up too hard he can, literally, snap the wings off the airplane. Which will certainly stop the hijackers from gaining control and smashing it into a building or whatever but I think we can agree this is not the most desirable result. Granted, that’s a worst-case scenario, but then that’s what we’re considering here, isn’t it?

Also consider that it IS possible to learn to manuver inside an airplane in zero g - that, after all, is why NASA has the Vomit Comet. In which case the the usefulness of the “extreme manuver” option goes down if the Bad Guys have been practicing at home to prepare for this. Pretty scary, huh?

I might also mention that Airbus has had a problem with snap-off parts during normal operations (Flight 587 in November 2001 being one example) so I really wouldn’t feel comfortable about trying this sort of stunt in one. Just because a Boeing allows for this sort of flying doesn’t mean other manufactuers’ designs could handle it (or they might handle it better - I just don’t know)

In truth, in an emergency it’s the pilot’s call what to do (In the regs, Part 91 section 3 paragraph b, to be specific, grants the pilot enormous lattitude in dealing with an emergency). So it’s an option but perhaps not as useful as it initially appears.

Both the above do have the problem of potentially killing some or all of the passengers as well as causing injury to passenger and hijacker alike. I think that’s why air marshalls - trained people to selectively take out just a few troublemakers - have such appeal to the authorities. Ideally, you do want to get the Bad Guys and leave the innocent unharmed. I’m sure we can all imagine a scenario where killing everyone on board an airliner is preferable to allowing the hijackers to complete their mission, but this is not an easily made decision. Pilots are trained to do everything possible to save lives in an emergency, not take them. That could certainly cause hesistation in enacting the extreme manuver plan.

There is certainly merit to that idea - the trouble now would be convincing the passengers to cooperate. There have been a few incidents since 9/11 where passengers took matters into their own hands once trouble broke out. To some degree, both the FAA and the airlines are relying on “willing and able” passenger(s) to deal with potential hijackers. Which is another reason for hesistating to either depressurize the plane or performing extreme manuvers - you’d disable your allies in the seats as well as the Bad Guys.

Oddly enough, I had this conversation with an airline captain on Sunday. He mentioned his airline is in the processing of installing video cameras in the passenger cabin so the pilots could actually see what’s going on in the back, should they feel a need to do so. With such equipment in place, the pilot could either let the willing and able beat the crap out of the Bad Guys, or, if that doesn’t seem to be a viable option, THEN consider something like unusual manuvers.