You're right, it does seem like a common trope in these bad-passenger stories — freaking out and trying to leave the flight at 30,000 feet. What a nightmare! However, Patrick Smith, pilot and author of the book Cockpit Confidential, has definitively debunked this.
"Cabin pressure won't allow it," he writes. "Think of an aircraft door as a drain plug, fixed in place by the interior pressure. Almost all aircraft exits open inward. Some retract upward into the ceiling; others swing outward; but they open inward first.
"At a typical cruising altitude, up to eight pounds of pressure are pushing against every square inch of interior fuselage. That's more than 1100 pounds against each square foot of door."
So a deranged passenger could pull at the door all day and it wouldn't open — even at a lower altitude, when pressure is reduced.
"A meagre two pounds per square inch is still more than anyone can displace," says Smith.
"The doors are further secured by a series of electrical and/or mechanical latches. You would need a hydraulic jack, and airport security doesn't allow those."
On the rails in India
Our journey will be from Delhi to Shimla, using the heritage Toy Train from Kalka for the final stage of the trip. We understand that train tickets in India are always in hot demand and that it is only possible to buy tickets 60 days (some info says 90 days) in advance.
We have read that the recommended site to purchase tickets (IRCTC) does not accept credit card payments, which is a real obstacle for foreign travellers. Tickets can also be purchased through the Cleartrip website which supposedly, for a small fee, does accept credit cards.
We wonder if this is a reliable option and whether you have any other suggestions or advice.
You may have read the article in last week's Travel titled How to travel around India — it happened to answer the very question you're asking, so I'll reiterate it here. You'll definitely want to purchase your tickets in advance and this can be done up to 120 days before your trip. The IRCTC site used to not accept foreign credit cards, but now do. However, Cleartrip is a legitimate Indian Railways agent and the author had no issues booking through them. Looking around online, I've seen it's used by plenty of other travellers as well.
Sounds like it will be an amazing journey — have a great time.
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* An earlier version of this article said the IRCTC site did not accept foreign credit cards, however this has been changed.