Airliner takes off with missing window panes in latest runway bungle

An Airbus A321 with nine passengers and 11 crew took off from London Stansted Airport last month only for its occupants to realize that there were two missing windows and several other damaged ones. The Orlando-bound flight reached 14,000 feet before declaring an emergency and returning to Stansted. A special bulletin published by the UK's air safety regulator reports that the windows were "damaged by high power lights used during a filming event"

Several passengers recalled that after takeoff the aircraft cabin seemed noisier and colder than they were used to. As the aircraft climbed through FL100 and the seatbelt signs were switched off, the loadmaster, who had been seated just in front of the other passengers, walked towards the back of the aircraft. He noticed the increased cabin noise as he approached the overwing exits and his attention was drawn to a cabin window on the left side of the aircraft. He observed that the window seal was flapping in the airflow and the windowpane appeared to have slipped down 1 . He described the cabin noise as 'loud enough to damage your hearing'

The loadmaster told the cabin crew and then went to the flight deck to inform the commander. At this stage the aircraft was climbing past FL130, there were no abnormal indications on the flight deck and the aircraft pressurisation system was operating normally. The flight crew stopped the climb at FL140 and reduced airspeed whilst the engineer and then the third pilot went to look at the window. Having inspected the window, it was agreed the aircraft should return to Stansted. The cabin crew told the passengers to remain seated and keep their seatbelts fastened, and reminded them about the use of oxygen masks if
that became necessary

It sounds like an example of how air travel safety problems typically involve a convergence of multiple failures: inappropriate lights used in a shoot to get the vaunted sunset-in-a-plane effect, melting the window seals; failure to notice or act by the film crew or whoever was hosting them; no cabin inspection because it was a positioning flight with only a handful of delayed and chartered passengers; taking off in a hurry; and so on.

The report is good reading, and describes in forensic detail how the lights melted the window seals: "a different level of damage by the same means might have resulted in more serious consequences, especially if window integrity was lost at higher differential pressure."