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The Street
The Street
Veronika Bondarenko

United under fire after video shows 'unauthorized person' sitting in cockpit

While there was once a time many years ago when pilots would invite children into the cockpit to show them how they fly they plane while also giving them wings, one of the many changes that came as a result of 9/11 was the requirement of creating a "second barrier" between the passengers and the pilots that means the cockpit door must be locked from the second pilots step into the plane until disembarking.

In 2023, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) further strengthened these rules by requiring new planes to have an additional barrier to the flight deck that would make it even more difficult for an intruder to break in if a pilot steps out to use the bathroom or needs to open the main door for any reason.

Related: A United passenger actually tried to break into the cockpit and escape the plane

Given all these rules, an incident that occurred on a United Airlines  (UAL)  flight chartered by the Colorado Rockies baseball team has caught FAA attention.

A man wearing a pilot's cap passes by a window overlooking several United Airlines planes.

Image source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

'A clear violation of our safety and operational practices'

Both the government agency and United are investigating the April 10 incident in which a member of the team was shown to be sitting in the pilot's seat. As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, a video that was initially showing off how "fun" the flight was started circulating online but would later end up being removed. 

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The person in the seat has not been identified but United said that the two pilots on the flight have been relieved of their duties for the length of the investigation over reportedly allowing someone to come into the cockpit in this way.

"We're deeply disturbed by what we see in that video, which appears to show an unauthorized person in the flight deck at cruise altitude while the autopilot was engaged," the airline said in a press statement. "As a clear violation of our safety and operational policies, we've reported the incident to the FAA and have withheld the pilots from service while we conduct an investigation."

Here is why United is currently facing some major regulator scrutiny

Another incident of attempted cockpit break-in occurred on a different United flight — as the plane was preparing to depart from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, an "unruly passenger" attempted to enter the cockpit.

"The passenger was not successful, and law enforcement greeted the unruly passenger at the gate," the FAA said in a statement. 

United has in general been under major scrutiny over the last few months after a series of unconnected safety incidents that pushed regulators to want to dig deeper into its safety practices. One plane from San Francisco to Oregon lost an external panel in the air back in March while a few weeks earlier a passenger filmed a video of a shredded United plane wing flapping in the wind.

United CEO Scott Kirby tried to reassure travelers by saying that the airline is "reviewing the details of each case to understand what happened and using those insights to inform our safety training and procedures across all employee groups" while also delaying the launch of some scheduled new routes as the airline focuses its efforts on the ongoing FAA investigation.

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