On the 5th of January, 2024, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX was forced to return to Portland after its rear mid-cabin exit door separated in flight.

The Boeing 737 MAX 9 with registration N704AL was operating flight AS1282 from Portland to Ontario with 171 passengers and six crew members aboard. However, shortly after takeoff, the aircraft lost its mid-aft exit door in flight and experienced a rapid decompression.

The Boeing 737 MAX 9 involved in the incident was a brand-new aircraft that was recently delivered at the end of October.

people sitting in an airplane
Passenger Footage

“Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 from Portland, Oregon to Ontario, California, experienced an incident this evening soon after departure. The aircraft landed safely back at Portland International Airport with 171 guests and 6 crew members.”

Alaska Airlines spokesperson

“The safety of our guests and employees is always our primary priority, so while this type of occurrence is rare, our flight crew was trained and prepared to safely manage the situation. We are investigating what happened and will share more information as it becomes available,” the statement continued.

One of the passengers reported that the panel blew out, causing a rapid decompression of the cabin. Due to cabin decompression, the oxygen masks were deployed immediately, and multiple passengers used the masks as they waited for the plane to land at PDX.

a view from inside of a plane
The Boeing 737 MAX 9 rolled off the assembly line just two months ago. Image: KPTV

While no one was injured, a child’s shirt did get pulled through the opening, the passenger added.

Having departed Portland at 17:06 local time (01:06 UTC +1), the aircraft reached a maximum altitude of 16,325 feet. Eventually, flight AS1282 diverted back to Portland without any further incidents, landing at 17:26, and reaching the gate at 17:30.

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Image: FlightRadar24

Boeing 737 MAX 9’s Rear Mid-cabin Exit Door

In the B737 MAX 9, there’s a rear cabin exit door located after the wings but before the rear exit door. This feature, activated in dense seating setups, aligns with evacuation requirements. Notably, Alaska Airlines keeps these doors permanently “plugged.”

According to reports, Boeing deactivates the additional door on some of the carrier’s MAX 9 jets in the factory before delivery. This door, indistinguishable to passengers, is a standard sidewall and window in the cabin.

a plane on the runway
Rear Mid-cabin Exit Door

Activation of the door increases the MAX 9’s passenger capacity to accommodate up to 215 individuals. An airline with a higher density configuration like Panama’s Copa Airlines has a door there. It is being speculated that the door plug popped off somehow in this incident.

an airplane with a hole in it
Footage showing the plug Boeing fits over a door opening on the MAX 9, halfway between the overwing emergency exit and the back door.

Brand New Boeing 737 MAX

The Boeing 737 MAX 9 involved in the incident (MSN 67501) was delivered to Alaska Airlines recently on the 31st of October 2023. After entering commercial service in November, the B737 MAX has accumulated 145 flights since then (including the incident flight). 

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the aircraft’s certification date was November 20, 2023. 

a person in a mask on a plane
Alaska Airlines Incident

Flight AS1282 was the aircraft’s third flight of the day and second take-off. It had flown from San Diego to New York overnight and then on to Portland earlier in the day, as reported by FlightRadar24.

Alaska Airlines Grounds Entire 737 MAX 9 Fleet

The incident has prompted Alaska Airlines to temporarily ground the fleet of 65 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes.

“Following tonight’s event on Flight 1282, we have decided to take the precautionary step of temporarily grounding our fleet of 65 Boeing MAX-9 aircraft. Each aircraft will be returned to service only after completion of full maintenance and safety inspections.”

Alaska Airlines spokesperson
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Out of 221 Boeing B737 Max 9 planes in service worldwide, United operates 79 and Alaska operates 65 in the U.S.

“Safety is our top priority and we deeply regret the impact this event has had on our customers and their passengers. We agree with and fully support the FAA’s decision to require immediate inspections of 737-9 airplanes with the same configuration as the affected airplane.”

Boeing spokesperson

“In addition, a Boeing technical team is supporting the NTSB’s investigation into last night’s event. We will remain in close contact with our regulator and customers,” the statement continued.

FAA Grounds Boeing 737 MAX 9s

The FAA has ordered temporary grounding of the 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft in the United States. The FAA is requiring immediate inspections of certain Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes before they can return to flight.

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United Airlines is also grounding all of its 737 MAX 9 aircraft as it awaits clarity on FAA requirements for return to service.

“United has temporarily suspended service on all Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft to conduct inspections required by the FAA. We are working with the FAA to clarify the inspection process and the requirements for returning all MAX 9 aircraft to service.”

United Airlines statement

Feature Image via Twitter (Brian McGuigan)