Entering a "big" jet cabin without a staircase or a boarding tunnel

Fabrizio Mazzoni
  • Entering a "big" jet cabin without a staircase or a boarding tunnel Fabrizio Mazzoni

    I see that big planes (for example B737, A319 etc and up) always need a staircase or a boarding tunnel in order for crew or passengers to enter the cabin since the position of the entry door is quite high (meters above the ground). What solutions are there if none of these options are available? (Except, obviously, for aircraft like DC-9's/MD-82 and 727's which had the rear entrance) How could the pilots get in? Is there some sort of manhole under the aircraft that can be opened to get inside with a sliding staircase or similar?

    Living in Africa, I have been to a couple of airstrips where these aircraft do land. Obviously all the airports had stairs but since we cope with some strange situations over here, the question came into my mind. What is the alternative should something go wrong and no traditional means be available to get in the plane?

  • There are no rear entrances these days, but many smaller jets like the Avro-RJ, Bombardier CRJ series or Embraer regional jets have their own air-stair on the main (front left) door. On the smaller planes the door are hinged at the bottom and the stair are part of the inner side of the door, on the larger ones there may be folding stairs stowed beside the door. B737 can have those too, but it's optional, so many operators choose not to have them (and on second-hand aircraft the operator sometimes bother removing them, but rarely adding them back). I've never heard of them on A320 family as it's a lot higher.

    You can get always out using the emergency slides and in cockpit they have a rope to climb down through the side window (where it's too high to jump from it) in case the cockpit door can't be used (happens sometimes).

    However the only way in is using stairs. It's hard to imagine you wouldn't be able to scramble at least a ladder even at very remote landing strip where the plane has made an emergency landing. Regular landing will obviously not be done to a place without regular stairs (unless the plane has integral airstairs, of course) and if it was emergency landing you need to bring in mechanics and fuel to get the plane out, brining a ladder is not much extra trouble.

  • Some large aircraft (like Air Force One) have been specially modified to include air stairs so that they don't have to rely on equipment on the ground:

    enter image description here

    The air stairs are quite heavy though, so most airlines have made the business decision to remove them (to save money) and only operate out of airports that have appropriate ground facilities, including stairs. If something happened and the stairs were not available on the ground, they would simply divert or reposition to an airport with adequate facilities.

  • In Canada's northern areas older large planes are used for freight. The crew just bring along an aluminum ladder.

  • At Cairo West, a joint Egyptian-US military airfield, we once used a fork-lift with an empty pallet to get military personnel on and off a 747-200 when the stairs weren't available. It took awhile. That was the method sometimes used to get JFK on Air Force One (when that airplane was a 707 and never in public view, although one picture got out) to avoid him exacerbating his back troubles by walking up the stairs.

    Also, unless modified, 747-100s and -200s can be entered and exited from the ground if you're reasonably fit. At age 75 I could still do it, although I might groan a bit. We used that means on occasion, usually when the stairs had been pulled away, and we needed to get someone into the airplane and didn't want the delay of getting the stairs. Given these days of security concerns, I'm not comfortable with providing the details.

  • Very good answers but this image from @Qantas94Heavy comment link is self explanatory!

    Climbing into a 747

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