Where Is the Safest Place to Sit on a Plane?

Aircraft · 4 min read · Nov 17, 2022
safest place to sit on a plane

There are several factors that passengers consider when selecting a seat on a plane. Different people have different criteria and preferences that come with a different seat location on a plane.

Some are motivated by legroom and choose seats with the most legroom. Some do not like being in between strangers and ignore the middle seat at all costs. For others, views are priceless, making them opt for middle or window seats depending on the aircraft design. Some go for ease of access to toilets and select aisle seats. Some people prefer reading while traveling and choose seats furthest away from the engines.

However, there is a class motivated by finding the safest place to sit. If you are such a person, this article will give you insights into the various places you can sit and how previous survival rates depend on your seating position.

A person taking a picture from the middle seat in a row on an airplane.

How planes fly

The first issue one may consider when choosing where to sit on a plane is how planes fly. Although plane crashes are exceptionally rare, it is common sense that a plane does not fly backward.

Some aviation engineers claim that the chances of impact on the back of the plane during a plane crash are a rare case. Unlike a car crash where back seats may be unsafe, the back seats of a plane are usually considered to have the safest seats according to other airline safety experts.

However, there are some factors that may make it unsafe to sit at the back of the plane. To understand these factors, let us look at the data from some fatal accidents in the past. 

A row of seats on an aircraft.

Crash data

There is available crash data on the Federal Aviation Administration’s CSRTG aircraft accident database. The database has information on aircraft accidents with both fatalities and survivors. An analysis of several accidents reveals that:

  • The seats in the back third of the aircraft have a fatality rate of 32%.
  • The seats in the middle third of the plane have a fatality rate of 39%.
  • The seats in the front third have a fatality rate of 38%.
  • The middle seats at the back of the plane have the least fatality rate of 28%.
  • Aisle seats in the middle third of the plane have the highest fatality rate of 44%.

The crash data indicates that the front third and middle third of the plane have higher fatality rates than the back third of the plane.

Therefore, the chances of survival seem higher in the back seats at the back of the plane than in the middle seats or front seats. Additionally, a middle seat at the back of the plane is considered safer than an aisle seat in the middle third of the plane.

Such information may worry passengers who prefer flying first class because the first class cabin is never located on the back third of the plane.  

Rows of empty airplane seats on board an aircraft.

Emergency procedures

Emergency exit usage also influences survival rates during a plane crash. Following a plane crash or an emergency landing, a person seated next to the emergency exit has a better chance of surviving the crash than one seated further from it.

So, the middle third of the aircraft may have better survival chances because they are closer to the emergency exits than those in the back of the plane. That is why, it may be beneficial in some cases to sit in the middle third of the plane and not the back third of the plane.

Circumstances

If you have followed the article, there seems to be no right place to sit to guarantee survival in case of a plane crash. The discussion suggests that the chances of surviving a crash are heavily dependent on the circumstances surrounding the crash.

For instance, if a plane’s tail takes the brunt of an impact, the passengers in the back of the plane will have a higher fatality. However, if the plane’s nose takes the brunt of the impact, most fatalities will occur in the front third of the plane, and passengers sitting there will fare worse.

An example is the engine failure on a Southwest Airlines flight in 2018. In that case, one engine disintegrated, spraying shrapnel that depressurized the aircraft. The incident resulted in the death of one passenger after more than nine years without a fatality in aviation in the United States.

Another example was the case in 2012 when researchers decided to fill a large Boeing aircraft with crash test dummies and fly hundreds of miles into the Mexican desert. The plane disintegrated and would have killed passengers seated in the front, like those in the first class and other more desirable seats.

A spacious aircraft cabin with people sitting on their seats.

Takeaways

I know some may have expected the article to point out a specific seat to choose as the safest seat and are more confused now concerning the safest place to sit. However, there is great news for everyone concerning flying.

Following various fatal accidents, researchers decided to analyze people’s lifetime odds of getting involved in plane crashes. The analysis concluded that the chances of someone getting involved in a plane crash during a lifetime of flying are so minimal. Therefore, there is no need to worry about where to sit on a plane.

In case an accident does occur, which is an exceptionally rare case, the fatality rates for each cabin section minimize the chances of one dying even further. However, as a passenger, you can improve your chances of survival in some ways.

After selecting the more desirable seats based on preferences, passengers should follow all safety requirements on board, for example, wear their seat belts at all times while flying. Many crash tests using crash test dummies show that wearing seat belts helps to minimize the impact of a crash on a passenger. Passengers who do not wear their seat belts are likely to suffer head injuries during aircraft accidents.

However, with all that said, remember that aviation accidents are so unlikely that there is barely any difference where you sit on the plane. So, whichever seat you choose or get assigned to you, sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!

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Jaap Brian profile picture
Jaap Brian
A highly passionate aviator, with a solid background in aeronautical engineering. His journey to writing about aviation topics is founded on sharing insights into aviation safety and technical aircraft performance – a journey that is 6+ years and counting.

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