Mystery Solved: Why Does it Take So Long to Get Off an Airplane?

It's not because the crew's just messing with you.

Waiting to disembark a plane might be the most frustrating few minutes (or more) of air travel — yes, even more than waiting to board. You've touched down, the pilot has cheerfully welcomed you to your destination, the engine's off and the seatbelt sign extinguished with a satisfying ding... but you're still not going anywhere. No matter how quickly you jump into the aisle and grab your bag from the overhead locker (because we know that's what you aisle seat choosers are really thinking) you are inevitably going to have to wait a little longer to get off the plane.

Here's why.

After the captain has steered the plane to the gate and shut down the engine and safety light, they then turn off the anti-collision light (the red blinking light on the top and bottom of the airplane). Not until this light is off can the ground crew even approach the airplane. At his point, because the fasten seat belt sign is off, passengers are already standing up and starting to get impatient. But there's a fairly intense process that still needs to be properly completed before the door can open.

On USA Today's "Ask the Captain," retired pilot John Cox explains that the ground crew, "have to position the jet bridge, aligning it with the door. Once the jet bridge is mated to the aircraft and the cover is in place, the ground agent either opens the door or taps on it for the flight attendant to open it. This varies depending on the type of airplane to minimize the chance for an inadvertent slide deployment. Once the door is initially opened, the ground agent assists in fully opening it and ensuring that it is locked in the open position."

Of course any small crisis can lengthen this few minutes' long process; perhaps the jetway is not working, maybe there's trouble with the escape slide, or, most likely, lots of airplanes have arrived at the same time and there aren't enough ground crew to attend to all of them. There's not much you, or the crew, can do about that. So instead of loudly sighing while crouched in the aisle, why not just sit back and relax for another few minutes? 

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