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Where Is the Safest Place to Sit on an Airplane?

It may not be where you think it is.  I’ve often heard “within five rows of the exit row” cited as the safest area on the airplane.

And it makes sense logically–if you only have a short period of time to leave the plane, the closer to the exit, the better.

emergency row

But I haven’t ever been able to find an actual study that says that.  It just always seems to be a stat on a top 5 list.

But Popular Mechanics looked at the actual data, and this figure seems to be very wrong.

While people have died in a fire waiting to exit the plane (which is why you should not get your overhead baggage), we need to consider the fatalities that come from the crash itself.

And what did Popular Mechanics find?

For several weeks, we pored over reports filed by NTSB crash investigators, and studied seating charts that showed where each passenger sat and whether they lived or died. We then calculated the average fore-and-aft seating position of both survivors and fatalities for each crash.

We also compared survival rates in four sections of the aircraft. Both analytical approaches clearly pointed to the same conclusion: It’s safer in the back.

I had seriously internalized the statistic about sitting near the exit doors, so this came as a huge surprise to me.

Mythbusters also studied what seating arrangement would result in the fewest fatalities–but it would literally mean changing around the seating.

They found that sitting backwards lessens your chance of dying on impact (but increases your chance of getting hit in the face with debris from the impact).

So maybe being by a door will get you out faster, but sitting in the back could save you on the initial impact.

(And yes, you should brace upon impact).

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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5 comments

  1. nandonanders

    Should be common sense. Planes fall out of the sky or crash into things making the back safest & 1st class the dumb zone.

  2. When booking travel for my family I always book the back of the plane. They always whine & complain, but my anxiety prefers to have statistics on my side.

  3. As a safety engineer, I’m well aware of this (yes, I study aviation disaster/root cause failures for fun). But I travel quite a bit for work. At least 4 flights per month, as many as 10. I still select seats toward the front. I grapple with it sometimes, but statistics are on my side. You may be x% “safer” sitting in the rear during a crash, but if the crash is only 0.00000x% likely to occur, then is it worth the additional 10 minutes PER FLIGHT spent waiting to deboard?

    I know the answer for ME is no. I’d rather get off a bit sooner. Or be upgraded 😛

  4. its a proven fact that the aft section is safer during an accident. Been a flight attendant for 29 yrs, and I always work the back of the plane. Even when I fly nonrev–I sit in the back. It all depends on the nature of the accident, but usually you are safer in the back, and on numerous occasions when boarding and I hear /talk to my pax, and they r griping about being in the aft section, I politely tell them its the safest part of the aircraft, otherwise I wouldn’t be working in the back. then they stop andr ealizew hat ive said. be safe everyone

  5. Its a proven fact that sitting in the aft section is safer. But I guess that depends on the type of incident/accident. As a flight attendant I always work the back of the plane(where the black box is) Even when im non revving I sit in the back.

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