The Safest Place to Sit on a Plane


Before delving into the safest sit to take while travelling by air, it should be noted that air travel is considered the safest mode of transportation. Indeed, experts say that you have a one in 1.2 million chances of being involved in a plane crash (some reports place the odds closer to one in 6 million); and if you happen to be in that unfortunate one in 1.2 million flights, the US National Transportation Safety Board says that you still have over 95% chance of surviving the crash. To put this into perspective, you are far more likely to be involved in a car crash driving to the airport than a plane crash mid-flight. However, despite the fact that travelling by car is 100 times deadlier than hopping on a plane, there are still those with a perpetual fear of flying who would like to know where to sit to improve their odds of surviving in the unlikely event of a crash. There are also curious travellers who just wonder about the safest place to be in the event of a very unlucky accident. Well, which ever category you fall into, here is your answer:

There are claims that seats over the wing of an aircraft are safest (because the plane is ‘strongest’ there). But popular opinion has it that, in the event of a plane crash, the rear of the plane is the safest place to be. This theory is supported by several studies, including one of the most ambitious tests ever undertaken in the name of airline safety: Discovery Channel staged a real plane crash in the Sonoran Desert in Mexico, complete with pilots parachuting out in the last minutes! The aircraft (a Boeing 727) was equipped with crash test dummies that had breakable ‘bones’, specialised cameras and sensors worth over half a million dollars, and a crew of incredibly daring pilots. The pilots ‘abandoned ship’ barely minutes before the huge jetliner smashed into the ground in a terrible crash that tore the plane apart. After hitting the ground, the front of the plane and the first 11 rows of seats (usually reserved for first-class and business-class passengers) were ripped off. According to the documentary, rows one through seven are the ‘fatal’ seats. Experts concluded that none of the plane’s first-class passengers would have survived the crash, but 78% of the other passengers would have, with the chance of survival increasing the closer they were sitting to the rear of the aircraft; making the ‘cattle-class’ seats a much safer place to be in the event of a crash. (I wouldn’t give up a first-class seat if offered though. It’s still a one in 1.2 million chances of a plane crash and a 95% survival chance, I’ll take it!).

While this single analysis of a crash is not enough to make definite assumptions, its findings did support a study by Popular Mechanics – a classic science and technology magazine. Popular Mechanics analysed all plane crashes for over a period of 36 years (1971 – 2007) and found that rear seat passengers were safest. Passengers near the tail of the plane were about 40% more likely to survive a crash than those in the front. Also, in 2015, researchers at TIME conducted their own research, and found similar results.

Additionally, the two rows closest to the emergency exit are also among the safe spots to be, for the obvious reason that they are right next to a way out (you get to escape from the plane quicker, if you have to). To support this theory, researchers from the University of Greenwich, commissioned by UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, carried out their own research and noted that passengers sitting more than six rows from an exit are far less likely to survive an airplane accident.

Despite these researches and findings, controversy still surrounds the question of whether one seat is substantially safer than another, and aircraft manufacturers continue to insist that “one seat is as safe as another, especially if you stay buckled up”. Of course, there are ways to increase your chances of survival no matter where you’re seated on a plane: pay attention to the safety briefing, know the number of rows to your nearest exit and be prepared to brace yourself in the event of a very unlikely crash.

Finally, flying is very safe and is only getting safer in recent decades. This is especially true compared with other means of transportation. But if you are a nervous flier, perhaps you could allay your fears of perishing in a plane crash by sitting in economy class, by the window, within a few rows of an emergency exit and with your seat belt fastened; it doesn’t get any safer than this.


By: Akaomachi B.


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