After his wife experienced an in-flight emergency last week, Mitt Romney complained at a Beverley Hills fundraiser on Saturday, about how airplanes don’t allow you to roll down the windows. Mrs. Romney’s plane was forced to make an emergency landing en route to Santa Monica after a fire broke out on the airplane. According to New York Magazine, Romney was quoted as saying:
“When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly, there’s no — and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem.”
Well Mr. Romney, in answer to your question, airplanes are pressurized and their windows don’t roll down because, well, you need like oxygen and stuff to survive at such high altitudes. If the airplane windows rolled down, the compressed air inside would rapidly rush out, the pressure would equalize, and everyone would, you know, die. And if you’re looking for a more detailed explaination, well Mr. Romney…
Gravity tends to keep air molecules closer to the ground which is good because that’s where all the people live. The atmosphere thins out as you reach higher altitudes. The air becomes so thin at 10,000 feet that airplane cabins must be pressurized to prevent occupants from suffering from hypoxia, or lack of oxygen. Because temperature and pressure go hand-in-hand (i.e. low-pressure air feels cold), pressurization is also necessary to keep cabins sufficiently warm. It gets even worse as you go higher. At 35,000 feet, the temperate drops below negative 60 degrees Fahrenheit and Mr. Romney, that’s like, really, really cold.
Pressurization is normally achieved by pumping the cabin full of “bleed air,” or compressed air sucked in and heated up by the plane’s turbine engines, those little spinning thingies that make the plane go vroom (if you want to think of them as “propellers”, we’ll just go with that rather than explain further). Pressurization only works in an airtight fuselage which means, Mr. Romney, we have to keep the windows closed and closed tight or we’ll have a “real problem”.