The Plane Took Off. It Seemed 'Noisier and Colder' Than Usual

Aircraft out of London with missing windows got to altitude of 14.5K feet before damage was spotted
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 10, 2023 8:44 AM CST
No One Saw Plane's Missing Windows Before Takeoff
Stock photo of Stansted Airport, in London.   (Getty Images/SmilingSatuma)

Twenty people are breathing a sigh of relief that their flight safely made it back to London after a startling discovery made midair. Per a report released Friday, investigators with the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch say an Airbus A321 took off on Oct. 4 from the British capital's Stansted Airport, headed for Orlando, Florida, with damaged and missing windows, and the aircraft made it to an altitude of at least 14,500 feet before that damage was discovered and the plane turned around, reports CNN.

The first clue to the nine passengers and 11 crew members that something was amiss was that it seemed "noisier and colder than they were used to" after takeoff, with one crew member describing the din as being "loud enough to damage your hearing," per the AAIB alert. That crew member then noticed a window seal "flapping in the airflow" soon after the seatbelt signs were switched off, and after one of the pilots inspected the window, it was decided that the plane should return to London. Upon landing, it was found that one windowpane was "dislodged," while two were missing entirely. Further damage to other windowpanes was also discovered.

For the missing windowpanes, all that stood between the cabin interior and the outside air was something called a "scratch pane," a piece of plastic put in place so passengers can't touch the outer windowpane, per the Independent. The cabin managed to retain normal pressurization during the flight, according to the bulletin. What led to the incident: The AAIB report notes that the day before the flight, the windows apparently "sustained thermal damage and distortion" from high temperatures while the plane was used during a filming session; floodlights had been pointed at the plane for hours to simulate a sunrise for the shoot.

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Although the plane, which was in the air for less than 40 minutes total, landed "uneventfully," the AAIB bulletin notes there could've been more "serious consequences, especially if window integrity was lost at higher differential pressure." An investigation is ongoing, and in the meantime, the report warns that "aircraft owners and operators should consider the hazard posed by such [filming] activities" to ensure something like this doesn't happen again. (More airplane stories.)

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