American Airlines Flight Makes An Emergency Landing After Cabin Wall Panels Pop Loose

No one wants to hear a sound on an airplane that they’ve never heard before, on the chance that it’s actually something bad. Those fears were likely present yesterday on an American Airlines flying to Dallas from San Francisco when an odd popping noise was followed by panels in the cabin falling off the walls, prompting an emergency landing.

A spokesman for the airline said the captain decided to turn around about an hour into the flight because of a possible blown air duct, reports the Associated Press. It landed without incident at San Francisco International Airport.

“The captain elected to return to San Francisco and landed the plane safely,” the spokesman said, adding that even though the issue was related to pressurization, the cabin never lost pressure.

One passenger said he and others knew something was wrong a few minutes after takeoff, when he said the fuselage shook violently and popping noises started coming from outside the plane. Then everyone started yelling for flight attendants when interior panels on either side of the plane fell off the walls.

“It was the whole Row 14 on all sides, from the floor to the ceiling,” said the passenger, who was reight behind that row. “It sounded like it was popping and banging so loud at first I thought stuff was coming out of the overhead compartments.”

He says crew members were “pulling the panels apart and looking for daylight behind there.” Just in case, he says he took a photo of the scene and posted it to Facebook so that his wife would know what had happened in case the plane crashed.

The captain at first announced that the flight would continue to Dallas since pressure inside the cabin was stable, but reversed that decision when he got an eyeful of the wall panels, the passenger said.

“We had some very professional flight attendants and they did a very good job keeping people calm. They said, ‘It’s just cosmetic,” he said.

Experts say that even though it might be disturbing to see panels popping off the wall, they have nothing to do with the plane’s structure and are just there to make the inside of the plane look nice.

“The plastic wall has no meaning to the safety of the plane. They are there so you don’t have to look at the bare walls,” an aeronautical engineer told the AP, adding however, that it’s “not normal” for walls to pop off like that.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it would work with American to fix the plan before it flies again.

Passenger heard popping noises from outside plane [Associated Press]