An AirlineReporter ongoing series. Unsolicited travel advice from David.What do you get when you combine writing about airline travel since 2008, with a few decades of being a sarcastic chap? Unsolicited Travel Advice from David (the Editor-in-Chief of this dog and pony show) — that’s what! There are way too many travel-related click-bait stories out there that give you boring and questionable information from “experts”. This series will be different — I will give you entertaining, possibly less questionable information, while not caring about any sort of clicks or bait. Let me set the mood. Imagine that you and I are hanging out, when we have just hit upon an interesting airline/travel topic (safest airline seats) and I am fired up and ready to spew my thoughts and opinions. When I wrap up, I am hoping that you won’t just awkwardly stare at me, but instead continue the conversation in the comments. Let’s do this…

Omg, omg, omg, which seat should I sit in? I want to live damn it!

Omg, omg, omg, which seat should I sit in? I want to live, damn it!

Series Post #1: WHERE IS THE SAFEST PLACE TO SIT ON THE PLANE?

This question always gets me riled up. If you don’t want to read this whole story, let me save you the time: It does not matter what airline seat you choose. It really, really does not matter. But that doesn’t stop so many others from telling you that a wrong choice in seat could cost you your life! (dun dun DUNNN)

The anecdotal thoughts on the topic are my favorite. “First class is safest, since the airline wants to save the rich.” Interesting…I have heard the opposite as well. “Sit over the wings, that’s the strongest part of the plane.” Of course there are huge fuel tanks located there too. “Sit in back, so you’ll be last to hit the ground, and just jump right before impact.” No joke, someone suggested that once to me and my dad, who happens to not only a pilot, but also a physicist. He was super nice about it, but it was fun conversation.

Anyhow, I wanted to find some actual data that people were using for their conclusions, and what better place to look than the internet? I found a few sites that had some good ol’ fashion data (just the way I like it). However, was this going to be good data (like Data) or bad data (like Lore)? [any Trekkies out there? If not, don’t worry, the Data/Lore joke isn’t that great anyhow]

Keep reading, because what I found will shock you to your core!!! (not really, I am just trying some of the “click bait” stuff, but keep reading, I think my best stuff is yet to come)

An old Boeing 757 fuselage mock-up, used for emergency training in Seattle. There is no safe seat here!

An old Boeing 757 fuselage mock-up, used for emergency training in Seattle. There is no safe seat here!

THE SCARY DATA TO MAKE YOU CHOOSE THE SAFEST SEAT!

I first reviewed a Popular Mechanics article and it seemed we might be on the same page. The author wrote, “The funny thing about all those expert opinions: They’re not really based on hard data about actual airline accidents.” Talking my language… making fun of “experts” and saying we need some data. Using National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) files, they found data for 20 accidents that had been “languishing for decades …waiting to be analyzed by anyone curious enough to look and willing to do the statistical drudgework.” Yup, they actually said that. Brilliant… what troopers! So, what did they find? In 11 of the 20 crashes, people in the rear did better, five had folks up front faring best, and the last three… they were “tossups.” Whatever that means.

Related Side-Story: My day as a (mock) airline accident victim

Time Magazine got a bit more detailed with their conclusion: “Statistics show that the middle seats in the rear of an aircraft historically have the highest survival rates.” They used a whopping 17 crashes to not only find the safest section of the plane, but also the seat! Color me impressed.

The Aviation Safety Network analyzed about 280 airline incidents, but only 70 had viable data. 39 accidents revealed that the rear was the safest, 25 showed the center, and 32 showed the front. You math whizzes might realize that the numbers don’t add up, if there was an accident and passengers survived pretty well in more than one section, they counted both.

Delta's evacuation trainer, hopefully you never have to use it for real (well the trainer yes, but in a real accident, no). If things get bad, always stay calm and follow instructions. That will more likely safe you than your seat assignment.

If things get bad, always stay calm and follow instructions. That will more likely save you than your seat assignment. And please, PLEASE, leave your bag behind!

THE REALITY & REAL TIPS ON INCREASING YOUR SAFETY

I find it impossible to make a claim about the safest place to sit on an airliner. When so little data is used – and people look at the data very differently – there are so many complex variables that go into an airline crash. No airline accident is simple and it typically takes a number of catastrophic failures for people to lose their lives.

If you actually want to be safer on your next flight, these tips can actually save your life (and it doesn’t matter where you’re seated):

  1. If something goes down, stay calm and listen to the flight attendants.
  2. Actually pay attention to the safety briefing, look for the nearest exits, and take a look at that safety card.
  3. For the love of god, leave your luggage on the plane, if you have to evacuate.
  4. Maybe just stay home and watch airplane videos instead (or Star Trek).

Related Side-Story: My inner seven-year-old hangs out with the Paine Field Airport Fire Department

Of course some might argue the left front seat might be the safest seat, since you have the most control. However... not the case when I am in the seat!

Of course some might argue the left front seat might be the safest seat, since you have the most control. However… not the case when I am in the seat!

TIME TO WRAP IT UP, DAVID

I am not statistician. I am not an airline crash expert. But I am going to go ahead and say with great confidence that this safest airline seat stuff is a bunch of horse crap! Sit where you want, and have a great flight. No matter what seat you choose, the stats overwhelmingly say that you will be super safe!

Related Side-Story: The only good kind of plane crash is a fake one

Okay, I am done with my semi-rant and ready to hear your thoughts. Do you think that the rear of an airliner is the safest? Does this sort of data sway your seat decisions? Have you heard other fun reasons why you should sit in one seat vs another? Have you watched the new Picard show… is it any good?  Let’s start a conversation in the comments! 

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

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11 Comments

Let’s see…..middle seat in the back?? I’ll take my chances.

Hey Tom,

I was thinking the same thing 🙂

David

You had me at “dun dun DUNNN” I like casual David. +100 points for Data vs Lore.

Ian Woolley

I always book seat 4D irrespective of carrier.

Hey JL, I love being able to work in a good Star Trek reference! And still to this day, when I read or hear “data” I see Data!

David

Hey Ian,

I feel that there has to be a good story behind you choosing that seat?! And what if it is already taken? Will you ask someone to swap?

David

Glen Towler

The most dangerous part of flying? Driving to the airport.

So very true Glen…. but where is the safest place to sit in the car on the way to the airport? Actually, there is probably a lot more data out there to legit answer that question :).

David

Robert Lopaka

As a 35 year, now retired, Crew for a US major I prefer to be in an EXIT row or very close. In a survivable crash, fire and smoke in the cabin quickly become the problem. Thx!

Hey Robert,

That is probably the safest place to sit on the plane!

David

Further forward (biz class) means better booze means less pain means… safer?

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