Experiencing a rapid descent like Delta Flight 2353? Here’s why you shouldn’t panic
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Passengers on Wednesday’s Delta Flight 2353 between Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale shared “sort of an instant panic” between 4:34 p.m. and 4:42 p.m., when the aircraft made an unexpected rapid descent from 39,000 feet to 9,975 feet in under eight minutes, according to data from flight-tracking site Flightaware. No injuries were reported, and the plane diverted safely to an alternate airport, Tampa.
“Out of nowhere, I had four oxygen masks drop down into my lap… from the top of the plane,” 21-year-old passenger Harris DeWoskin told reporters. “Chaos sort of ensued amongst the passengers.” DeWoskin also said that flight attendants tried to reassure passengers not to panic.
The Boeing 767-300 was 37 minutes en route to Fort Lauderdale when the pilots made “a rapid, controlled descent due to a possible aircraft depressurization issue,” according to Delta spokesperson Anthony Black. Black added that the plane diverted to Tampa “out of an abundance of caution and landed without incident,” and that maintenance technicians were evaluating the aircraft to determine the source of the malfunction.
Passengers and media outlets often use the word “plunge” or even “plummet” to describe rapid descents like Wednesday’s Flight 2353, or last year’s Southwest Flight 1380, where pilot Tammie Jo Shults safely brought a damaged Boeing 737-700 from above 35,000 feet to 13,000 feet in five minutes. (Sadly, a passenger was killed in that accident — but as a result of an engine explosion that shattered a window, not because of the loss of cabin pressure.)
But rapid descents like these two examples are far from uncontrolled drops. They are extremely fast, but they are also a by-the-book response to a loss of cabin pressure — or to a risk of losing it. Dropping quickly to an altitude where the outside air is breathable is the correct response, to ensure that passengers onboard do not lose consciousness from lack of oxygen.
While the details of what happened on Flight 2353 are still unknown, it appears that the pilots had the situation in hand. And while passengers were understandably afraid, their predicament was very likely not as perilous as it might have seemed. Descending to under 10,000 ft is the prescribed manner of dealing with what Delta 2353 likely experienced.
Passengers don’t necessarily know this, however; hence the panicked reactions. DeWoskin, who described the experience as “terrifying,” said that “there was a scary 60 to 90 seconds where we really didn’t know what was going on (…) that 60 to 90 seconds of ambiguity felt like an hour.” A look at the altitude graph of the flight — the green line in the image below — makes clear how steep the descent was.
So if your flight happens to go into rapid descent, and oxygen masks drop suddenly while the plane descends steeply, know that what is happening is a) very rare, and b) very safe. Chances are, your pilots are rapidly bringing you down to an altitude where you won’t need those oxygen masks.
“It would be nice if the rest of our lives were as safe as airline travel,” commercial pilot Jim Blaszczak told TPG at the time of the Southwest 1380 incident. “The chance of an airline accident is not zero, but it’s way down there. The airline industry has taken its safety responsibility very seriously over the last decades, and the facts are clear: It is safer than ever to fly.”
Featured photo courtesy of Harris DeWoskin.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees