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What is the safest seat on an airplane? We asked an aviation expert


When you book a flight, do you ever think about which seat will protect you the most in an emergency? An aviation expert explains to us which is the safest seat.

Morning light from window of airplane wing

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(CNN) --

When you book a flight, do you ever think about which seat will protect you the most in an emergency?

Probably not.

Most people reserve seats for comfort, like legroom, or for convenience, like easy access to restrooms.

Frequent flyers (this author included) can reserve their seat as close to the front as possible for faster disembarkation.

We rarely book a flight hoping to get one of the last row middle seats.

But you know?

Statistically, these seats are the safest on the plane.

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Traveling by plane is safe

Before getting into the matter, I must reiterate that air travel is the safest mode of transportation.

In 2019, there were just under 70 million flights worldwide, with just 287 fatalities.

According to analysis of census data by the US National Safety Council, the odds of dying on a plane are approximately 1 in 205,552, compared with 1 in 102 in a car.

Even so, we pay little attention to fatal traffic accidents, but when we find out that an ATR72 crashed in Nepal it is the top story on all news pages.


Our interest in plane crashes may lie in wanting to understand why they happen, or how likely they are to happen again.

And maybe it's not a bad thing;

our concern ensures that these tragic incidents are fully investigated, helping to keep air travel safe.

Frankly speaking, there's no real need to worry about safety when you're boarding a commercial flight.

But if you still have that nagging question on your mind, driven by mere curiosity, keep reading.

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The middle seat, in the back

It should be remembered that accidents, by their very nature, do not conform to the rules.

In the 1989 United Flight 232 crash in Sioux City, Iowa, 184 of the 269 people on board survived the crash.

Most of the survivors were seated behind first class, towards the front of the plane.

However, a TIME investigation – which analyzed 35 years of data on plane crashes – found that the middle seats at the back of a plane had the lowest fatality rate: 28%, compared to 44% for seats from the center aisle.

Logically, this also makes sense.

Sitting next to an exit row will always give you the quickest exit in an emergency, as long as there is no fire on that side.

But the wings of an airplane store fuel, so this disqualifies center exit rows as the safest row option.

At the same time, being closer to the front means you'll be hit sooner than those behind, leaving us with the last starting row.

As for why middle seats are safer than window or aisle seats, it's, unsurprisingly, because of the cushioning of having people on either side.

The wings of commercial aircraft store fuel, which can make this area slightly more dangerous in the unlikely event of an emergency.

Credit: tonefotografia/Adobe Stock

Some emergencies are worse than others

The type of emergency will also dictate survivability.

Hitting a mountain will exponentially reduce the chances of survival, as occurred in a tragic catastrophe that occurred in 1979 in New Zealand.

Air New Zealand Flight TE901 crashed into the slopes of Mount Erebus in Antarctica, killing 257 passengers and crew.

Landing nose-first into the ocean also decreases the chances of survival, as happened in 2009 with Air France Flight 447, which killed 228 passengers and crew.

Pilots are trained to minimize potential risk in an emergency.

They will try to avoid hitting mountains and will look for a flat place, such as an open field, to land as normally as possible.

The technique for landing on the water requires evaluating the surface conditions and attempting to land between the waves at a normal landing angle.

Planes are designed to be very resilient in emergency situations.

In fact, the main reason cabin crew remind us to fasten our seat belts is not because of the risk of an accident, but because of the "clear air turbulence" that can be experienced at any time at high altitude.

This meteorological phenomenon is the one that can cause the most damage to passengers and planes.

Manufacturers are designing new planes with more composite materials capable of withstanding the stress in flight.

In these designs, the wings are not rigid and can flex to absorb extreme loads and prevent structural failure.

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Does the type of plane matter?

It is true that there are certain variables, such as the impact of airspeed, that can vary slightly between different types of aircraft.

However, the physics of the flight is more or less the same in all aircraft.

In general, larger aircraft will have more structural material and therefore more strength to withstand pressurization at altitude.

This means that they can provide some additional protection in an emergency, but this, again, is highly dependent on the severity of the emergency.

This is not to say that you should book your next flight on the biggest plane you can find.

As I have already said, air transport is still very safe.

So I suggest you better think about what movie you are going to see, and don't run out of chicken and only have shrimp left!

-- Doug Drury is Professor of Aviation at Central Queensland University.

Published under Creative Commons license by The Conversation.

Airplane Safety Tips

Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2023-02-08

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