What Happens in an Explosive Decompression during Flight?


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Remain calm in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure. Image by MikeTowse

Passenger Reaction to Explosive Decompression

As a passenger, it is your responsibility to ensure your personal safety over the safety of others.

Trying to help other passengers may seem like the better deed at that time – nonetheless, if you are yourself not secure first, you will hinder the efforts of those authorized to assist the passengers.

Remember that even the cabin crew are required to ensure their own safety before helping the passengers out, so don’t yell out to the lady to help you put on an oxygen mask. Here’s what you do:

  1. Your first reaction to jerks in flight should always be to put your seat belt on. No matter whether the jerks are from explosive decompression or from general turbulence – your decision to fasten the seat belt could save your life.
  2. Oxygen masks automatically drop whenever there is loss of pressurization. When an oxygen mask drops in front of you, put it on as fast as you can. Failure to do so, may expose you to Hypoxia, or loss of oxygen.
  3. Once you are secure in your seat, and have successfully put on the oxygen mask, look around and help those within your reach. Help other passengers with their seat belts and their oxygen masks, and more importantly: help them calm down.

In the event of an explosive decompression, the pilots are required to descend immediately to at least an altitude of 10,000ft – an altitude at which it is safe for you to breathe, even without the oxygen masks. Nonetheless, you should not take off the mask unless instructed otherwise.

Explosive Decompression in the Air

Explosive decompression is rare, but it does happen. This phenomenon has cost human lives, and is a key consideration when designing aircraft. You are not required by any organization or the airline you travel in to act by the points listed above  – however, you are more likely to survive the event if you follow recommended procedures. Hence, the flight attendants’ routine reminder of what to do in emergency situations before every flight (which we all find very amusing).

This is what explosive decompression actually looks like as it happens.


Robson, D. Aeroplane General Knowledge and Aerodynamics. (2004.)  Aviation Theory Centre.

FAA. FARS Part 25. (1996). Accessed September 24, 2012.

Airbus. Flight Operations Briefing Notes: Cabin Decompression Awareness. (2007). Accessed September 24, 2012.

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