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The Mystery of the Empty Seats Near Fuselage Hole on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, Explained

Minutes after Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 departed from Portland on Jan. 5, 2024, the pilots aboard were forced to make an emergency landing.

Published Jan 12, 2024

In this National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) handout, an opening is seen in the fuselage of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Boeing 737-9 MAX on Jan. 7, 2024 in Portland, Oregon. A door-sized section near the rear of the Boeing 737-9 MAX plane blew off 10 minutes after Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 took off from Portland, Oregon on Jan. 5 on its way to Ontario, California. (Photo by NTSB via Getty Images) (NTSB via Getty Images)
Image Via NTSB via Getty Images

On Jan. 7, 2024, a TikTok user posted a video and said, "My new Roman Empire is the fact that nobody was sitting in that seat on that plane where the window or door or piece of the plane literally broke off in the middle of the flight. How was no one sitting there? What are the odds?"

The video was viewed 8.5 million times in just four days and received nearly 1 million likes.

One of the top comments with 81,000 likes said, "They missed their flight! Which is even crazierrrr."

Another top comment with 124,000 likes read, "Whoever was supposed to be sitting there has some serious guardian angels."

These videos and comments referenced Alaska Airlines flight 1282 – a flight that, in the late-afternoon hours of Jan. 5, 2024, had to make an emergency landing at Portland International Airport after a portion of the left side of the Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft's fuselage blew off, creating a hole in the side of the airplane.

In another TikTok video that received more than 800,000 views, a user claimed in the clip's caption, "Two people were supposed to be on the Alaska Airlines plane when a section of the plane blew away. Those two people missed their flight. That may have saved their life."

Right next to the blown-out hole in the 26th row were two empty seats: 26A and 26B.

171 of the aircraft's 178 seats were filled with passengers, leaving only seven total empty seats. Six crew members were on board. No one was seriously injured.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered similar Boeing Max 9 aircraft grounded for inspection. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also began an investigation.

As of the morning of Jan. 12, no credible evidence had yet been made available that would show beyond a shadow of a doubt that a person who purchased a ticket but missed the flight would have ended up sitting in seat 26A or 26B if they hadn't missed it.

Were Passengers Assigned to Seats 26A and 26B?

By email, a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines confirmed to Snopes that "no passengers were ever assigned to seats 26A and 26B." We also asked questions about the rumor that one or more passengers had missed the flight but did not yet receive any additional responses.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy also confirmed during a Jan. 6 news conference that the two seats were empty and later noted that no one was moved from the seats. Further, she said that while some of the seats had been "torqued" (rotated), video showed that none of them had been sucked out of the hole in the fuselage.

It's unclear what might have happened to passengers had they been seated in 26A and 26B. However, the passenger who was seated in seat 25A – a window seat – might have some perspective, as the seat was so close to the blown-out portion of the fuselage that the passenger's left shoulder was right "beside the edge of the gaping hole," The Seattle Times reported. Again, no serious injuries were reported.

Alaska Airlines' 'Saver Fare'

Despite the fact that the spokesperson for Alaska Airlines told Snopes that no passengers had been assigned to seats 26A and 26B, it's still possible that one or more people who purchased a ticket and missed the flight would have been assigned one of the seats.

Alaska Airlines offers low-priced "Saver fares." According to the airline's website, for a "Saver fare" ticket purchase, "seats are assigned at check-in." Check-in occurs within 24 hours of the flight's departure. In other words, if a person who purchased a "Saver fare" ticket did indeed miss the flight, it's possible that they would have been assigned seat 26A or 26B. However, again, as of Jan. 12, we were not yet able to find any credible evidence that anyone who purchased such a ticket had missed the flight.

'This Was My Flight Yesterday'

On Jan. 5, a user on X named @SnipedSox posted, "THIS WAS MY FLIGHT YESTERDAY….. I NEVER miss flights. But yesterday I did. One of the emergency exits got BLOWN OFF MID FLIGHT. And the two seats next to the exit got sucked off the plane. ONE OF THOSE SEATS WERE MINE. Missing my flight yesterday saved my life. Praise God."

As evidence, the user only posted a purported screenshot of general messages that they said they had received in the Alaska Airlines mobile app. They did not post a screenshot of their ticket or any other documentation.

On Jan. 11, we reached out to this user via a direct message on X to ask questions and to request additional evidence. Specifically, we asked three separate times (twice on Jan. 11 and once on Jan. 12) for a copy of the email confirmation that they would have received at the time they purchased the ticket. The user responded to our messages several times. However, as of the early-afternoon hours in the U.S. on Jan. 12, they had not yet sent over any further documentation that would suffice as credible evidence.

In the user's post, they claimed that "the two seats next to the exit got sucked off the plane" and said "one of those seats were mine." However, again, while some seats near the blown-out portion of the fuselage did sustain damage, no seats were completely lost out of the hole. Further, again, a spokesperson for the airline told Snopes by email that no passengers had been assigned to seats 26A or 26B.

'They Said'

Elsewhere on X, a user named @REDSEASHAWTY posted, "They said the two people who were supposed to sit there missed their flight."

On Jan. 11, we asked the user who "they" referenced but did not yet receive a response.

Even though no evidence was provided to show that the user was making a valid claim, the post still received nearly 500,000 likes and racked up 71 million of what X labels as "views" (impressions).

This story will be updated if we receive more information in the future.

Sources

“Alaska Airlines Window Panel Blows out Mid-Flight, Plane Forced to Make Emergency Landing.” YouTube, WFAA 8, 6 Jan. 2024, https://www.youtube.com/shorts/tWB7BFA0pE4.

Coy, Peter. “Opinion | The Scariest Part About the Boeing 737 Max 9 Blowout.” The New York Times, 10 Jan. 2024, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/10/opinion/boeing-737-max-alaska-japan-airlines.html.

Gates, Dominic. “When Alaska Flight 1282 Blew Open, a Mom Went into ‘Go Mode’ to Protect Her Son.” The Seattle Times, 9 Jan. 2024, https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/when-hole-opened-on-alaska-flight-1282-a-mom-held-tight-to-her-son/.

“NTSB Media Brief - Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 (Jan 7) Livestream.” YouTube, NTSBgov, 7 Jan. 2024, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jeO5fwRXLo.

“NTSB Press Conference on Alaska Airlines Blown Door.” YouTube, KOIN 6, 6 Jan. 2024, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8ww5l6xvHQ.

Olson, Alexandra. “What to Know about the Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 Jet That Suffered a Blowout.” The Associated Press, 7 Jan. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/alaska-airlines-portland-oregon-emergency-landing-boeing-c4810be9aff3bc3b61610acc1e43c417.

@petemuntean. “JUST IN: Alaska Airlines Confirms to Me That ‘Nobody Was Assigned to Sit’ near the Spot Where the Hole Opened in the Side of Flight 1282, and ‘Nobody Was Moved.’  Alaska Will Not Say If Seats in Row 26 Were Empty Because Pax Missed the Flight, Which Would Have Been Amazing Luck.” X, 7 Jan. 2024, https://twitter.com/petemuntean/status/1744025914789241024.

Rodriguez, Matthew. “Alaska Airlines Flight Forced to Make Emergency Landing after Window Blows out in Mid-Air - CBS Los Angeles.” CBS Los Angeles, 6 Jan. 2024, https://www.cbsnews.com/losangeles/news/alaska-airlines-flight-forced-to-make-emergency-landing-after-window-panel-blows-out-mid-air/.

Rush, Claire, et al. “Federal Officials Order Grounding of Some Boeing 737 Max 9 Jetliners after Plane Suffers a Blowout.” The Associated Press, 6 Jan. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/alaska-airlines-portland-oregon-emergency-landing-b522e36ff228b5ea9a89ea13ee24f597.

Salahieh, Nouran, et al. “Missing Part of Alaska Airlines Plane That Blew off Mid-Flight Is Found, Investigators Say.” CNN, 7 Jan. 2024, https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/07/us/alaska-airlines-faa-plug-door-blown-off-sunday/index.html.

“Saver Fares on Alaska Airlines Flights.” Alaska Airlines, https://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/flight-experience/saver.

Spencer, Terry, and Claire Rush. “Twisted Metal, Rushing Wind: A Narrowly Avoided Disaster as Jet’s Wall Rips Away at 3 Miles High.” The Associated Press, 8 Jan. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/alaska-airlines-portland-oregon-emergency-landing-0a0378cf2ca6d5567e18d4cda74a0978.

Vives, Ruben, et al. “‘Truly Terrifying’: Investigators Describe the Blowout Aboard an Alaska Airlines Flight.” Los Angeles Times, 6 Jan. 2024, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2024-01-05/alaska-airlines-portland-flight-emergency-landing.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.