In the aftermath of the Turkish Airlines crash in Amsterdam in 2009, in which nine people died but others walked away with little more than a few bruises, many asked which is the safest place to sit in a plane. The same question is asked in relation to infectious diseases like COVID-19. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as “the safest spot on a plane” because many factors determine the outcome. For instance, some contend that sitting in line with the wing is the safest as there are overwing exits and that area is the strongest part of a plane’s structure. However, you’re also sitting near the plane’s fuel tanks, which isn’t ideal if there’s a fire.
Air crash studies
A scientific magazine ‘Popular Mechanics’ did a study in 2007 of air crashes in the US since 1971. The study concluded that passengers who sit in the back rows “are 40% more likely to survive a crash” than those in the front. Statistics provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) support this finding. According to their stats, the back third of the plane had the lowest fatality rate whilst the highest fatality rate was found at the aisles in the middle section.
A separate study of 105 air crashes by British experts concluded that the most dangerous seats are those by the window, especially in the back. However, if there is a fire, passengers who sit in the front have a better chance of escaping than those in the back (probably something to do with the fuel tanks being in the back). Passengers who sit within five rows of an exit have the biggest chance of escaping during a fire in a plane.
Is there a ‘safest seat on a plane’?
So, is there really a safe spot? Airlines contend that there is no such thing. I would agree as there are so many random factors to consider during an accident. However, statistically speaking, a seat close to an exit in the front or rear, or a middle seat in the back third of the plane offers the lowest fatality rate. That said, flying is still the safest form of transport. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), in the USA, “over the last 10 years, passenger vehicle [includes cars and motorbikes] death rate per 100 million passenger miles was over 9 times higher than for buses, 17 times higher than for passenger trains, and 1,606 times higher than for scheduled airlines.” So, statistically, you’re much safer in a plane than on any other mode of transport.
In light of diseases such as SARS or COVID 19, various studies were undertaken to identify the safest seats in a plane, where the risk of infection is lowest. One way to reduce transmission is to wear a face mask. Another method is to open the air vent above your head. One study concluded that the seats in the back rows are safest as there are fewer people behind you. In addition, there’s a bigger chance of empty seats next to you as airlines typically fill a plane from the front.
Another study looked at the number of contact moments (possible transmission moments) passengers have with one another during a flight. Passengers in aisle seats have the most contact moments (64) while window seats have the least (12). And that’s great news for me as I always prefer window seats! My policy is to choose a window seat, open the air vent a bit and point it towards the shared arm rest, and limit my movements in the cabin.