Where Is the Safest Part of a Plane?
Flying was not an easy task for the first few years of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Well, it was super hard at least here in Australia where borders were shut!) Now that vaccination rates are rising around the world, more people are going off traveling by air again. But before booking your flight and selecting your seat, do you want to know where is the safest part of a plane? If so, hope this infographic helps!
Planes Are the Safest Form of Transport
If I talk too much about “the safest part of a plane,” you may wonder if planes are so unsafe that you have to worry about safety. As a matter of fact, aviation is the safest transportation. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the all accident rate in 2018 was 1.35. This means there was only one accident occurrence for every 740,000 flights. The fatal accident rate in 2018 was 0.28 per million flights, meaning there was only one fatal accident for every 4.2 million flights. Furthermore, one would have to travel by air every day for 16,581 years to lose their life in a fatal air accident.
In addition to the low accident rates, the risk of contracting COVID-19 onboard is also low. IATA raises several reasons for the low contracting risk. First of all, cabin air is very clean as it is exchanged 20 to 30 times an hour, which is 10 times more frequent than in office buildings. Aircraft also uses high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filters that are similar to those in hospitals and industrial clean rooms. Secondly, the air flow direction onboard is from top to bottom, which reduces transmission risk from front to rear across the cabin. Thirdly, wearing masks is compulsory for passengers and crew during the pandemic. Moreover, passengers face the same direction, limiting face-to-face interaction. Lastly, seatbacks work as a barrier, preventing row-to-row transmission.
Not only low accident rates but also low risk of contracting virus make flying the safest form of transport. Yet air crashes still happen—so knowing the safest part of a plane won’t harm. Acknowledging that determining the safest part of a plane requires multiple approaches, the infographic above pulled results from two different studies on the subject.
Middle Seats in the Rear Are the Safest, According to TIME
In 2015, TIME conducted a research by going through the Federal Aviation Administration’s CSRTG Aircraft Accident Databook. The team analyzed seat charts of 17 air crashes that had both survivors and fatalities between 1985 and 2000.
According to their analysis, the highest fatality of 39% fell in the middle third of a cabin (MID). Then the front third (FWD) had the second highest fatality rate of 38%. The rear of a cabin (AFT) observed the lowest fatality rate of 32%. To be more specific, the middle seats in AFT are the safest part of a plane with a 28% fatality rate. Conversely, the aisle seats in MID had the worst outcomes of a 44% fatality rate.
Aisle Seats Near Emergency Exits Are the Safest, According to Greenwich University
In 2008, researchers from Greenwich University carried out a study for the Civil Aviation Authority. It looked through 105 plane accidents with the accounts of 2,000 survivors. These accidents included not only crashes but also fires onboard around the world.
The research found that the closer to the emergency exit, the more chances to survive. Survivors were seated on average within 2.89 seat rows from emergency exits. And fatalities were on average more than 5.31 seat rows away from emergency exits. Furthermore, the survival rate of aisle seated passengers was 64%, while that of non-aisle seated passengers was 58%. Interestingly, the study had contradictory findings to the study of TIME: FWD had a higher survival rate. The average survival rate of passengers in FWD was 65%, while that of passengers in AFT was 53%.
Two Accidents Compared: JL123 and PK8303
These two studies suggested two different safest places of a plane. The difference in the results might be because of the difference in the kinds of accidents they analyzed. Now, let us recall two different fatal air crashes with a few survival to elaborate on the topic.
One example of air crash survival is the deadliest single-aircraft disaster, Japan Airlines Flight 123. Improper aircraft maintenance caused Japan Airline’s Boeing 747 to crash into a mountain in Japan on 12th August 1985. The tragedy claimed 520 precious lives. However, miraculously, there were four survivors. And all of the four survivors were seated in AFT; three of them were in the AFT middle seats. Their seats were: 54D, 54F, 56C, and 60D.
If a plane crashed, it would most likely crash from the front—then AFT would be a safer place, as the JL123 accident proved. However, in some cases, survivors were not in AFT. For example, two passengers survived in Pakistan International Airlines Flight 8303 in 2020. Their seats were reportedly 1C and 10C. These survivors would have been able to avoid impact or escape from the wreckage somehow. Or they would have been found easily and quickly by a rescue team than others.
Just as these accidents showed, “the safest place of a plane” heavily depends on circumstances and situations of the accident. But overall, the key for survival would be the accessibility of evacuation and avoidance of the impact as well as availability of rescue operations.
The two different studies by TIME and Greenwich University presented two different safest spots on a plane. The former suggested middle seats in AFT are the safest, while the latter concluded seats in FWD, aisle seats, and near the emergency exits are the safest. Since every air accident and crash happens in various circumstances, determining the safest place of a plane is not a straight-forward task.
However, there are several things we can keep in mind to survive an accident when taking a plane: where are the nearest exits, and how to avoid impact. As a former flight crew, I understand not many people pay attention to emergency exits nor watch safety videos. But locating the nearest emergency exits and knowing “brace for impact” position could let you act calmly and save you in case of emergency.
That said, traveling by air is the safest form of long distance transport. But if you are scared of flying or feeling nervous about flying after reading this article, select one of those seats suggested in the studies. And ideally, be familiar with your nearest emergency exits and the safety instruction card in the seat pocket!
Lastly, let me introduce you an incredible work of Qantas, the Spirit of Australia. Qantas created a new inflight safety video, celebrating its 100 years of operations. Do you still think inflight safety videos are boring? Watch this!
(P.S. My favorite spots on a plane are always the rear middle seats unless I fly business class! And that’s simply because it is likely to be less crowded. Or I sometimes select a seat over the wings if there is a turbulence expected en route as over-wing seats are the least turbulent.)