If you’re a nervous flyer, you’ve probably wondered if there’s a safest part of the plane cabin. It’s a somewhat ridiculous question—especially since your chances of being killed in a plane crash are dramatically lower than in a car accident (one in 96,566 vs. one in 112). But the question has been answered with multiple crash data reports—and there’s one consistent standout. Here’s where anxious flyers should choose to sit.
The Safest Part of the Plane
The most up-to-date crash data available on seat safety shows that in the safest seat on the plane is usually in the rear section. The Aviation Safety Network analyzed 65 jetliner accidents that had at least one survivor, and determined (based upon the locations of fatalities) what the safest part of the plane was for each crash.
Out of the 65 fatal accidents, there were 36 in which the rear was among the safest locations of the aircraft. The center and front were deemed among the safest in 21 and 30 instances, respectively—making the rear part of the plane a clear standout.
“However, there are accidents which have two safest locations: for example, if most people in front and rear survived,” Aviation Safety Network CEO Harro Ranter told me. In 16 of those 36 cases, another part of the plane was also deemed as safe as the rear.
Other independent reviews of crash data have come to similar conclusions about the safest part of the plane. In 2007, Popular Mechanics reviewed crash fatalities by seat section dating back to 1971, and found that the survival rate in the rear section was 69 percent—20 percent higher than the front, and 13 percent higher than the middle sections. “Rear passengers clearly fared better,” the report states. “Only five accidents favored those sitting forward.”
Still not convinced that there’s a safest part of the plane? Time independently reviewed crash data from the FAA in 2015, and found similar results: survival rates of 68 percent in the back, 61 percent in the middle sections, and 62 percent in the front. However, it’s worth noting that Time only reviewed 17 crashes—a less than ideal sample size—dating back to 1985.
Only a fraction of fatal-crash data includes seating charts that could be analyzed, but the fact that all of these studies came to similar conclusions suggests that the findings might be reliable. It’s also worth noting that crash data doesn’t include terror or suicide-related incidents—these numbers are a look at purely accidental crashes, which are more common.
There have been 273 commercial jetliner crashes with at least one fatality since 1959. Crash rates are now at an all-time low: In 2016, there were 325 crash deaths worldwide. For the past seven years, there have been no crash deaths on U.S.-certificated scheduled airlines. It’s clear that your chances of being in a crash are slimmer than ever—but there may be reason to believe that where you’re sitting in the event of crash does matter.
Next time you’re choosing seats on a packed flight, keep in mind that those last-picked seats in the back of the cabin might not be so bad after all.
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