What makes a plane seat safe?
TIME magazine published a study several years ago looking into just that, and found for the most part that the middle seats near the back of the plane are the safest.
“Statistics show that the middle seats in the rear of an aircraft historically have the highest survival rates.
“This is based on a study of aircraft accidents in the last 35 years. TIME went through the Federal Aviation Administration’s CSRTG Aircraft Accident Database looking for accidents with both fatalities and survivors. We found 17 with seating charts that could be analyzed. The oldest accident that fit our criteria was in 1985; the most recent was in 2000.”
“The analysis found that “the seats in the back third of the aircraft had a 32 percent fatality rate, compared with 39 percent in the middle third and 38 percent in the front third,” the study reads.
Many of the accidents had very specific root causes as well, according to a Fodors report.
“For example, one pair of accidents, in August 1987 and August 1988, were both attributed to incorrect takeoff configurations, resulting in significant focus on flight deck procedures that rendered repeats of those types of accidents unlikely,” it explained.
The same goes for seat safety, as it makes little sense to choose “safe” seats in advance as there is no way to know what kind of disaster will occur – if one even occurs.
“Passengers sitting within five rows of an emergency exit were also more likely to survive an accident that also resulted in fatalities,” the Fodors report reads.
“This is also somewhat of a misnomer, since there have been plenty of accidents in which passengers sitting near the exits did not survive. In an accident that occurred in August 1985, the 27 surviving passengers, except for only seven of them, were seated five rows away from the exit, but a large portion of the 136 deaths were also sitting five rows from the exit,” it added.
“In short, few if any passengers on an airplane expect disaster to strike, let alone predict exactly how, when, and where.”
“When a 737 lost part of its roof over the Hawaiian Islands in 1988, neither passengers nor crew members had anticipated this event – and none of them could have imagined that it would completely expose many of the front rows of passenger seats to the weather factors,” the report continued.
“In another plane crash in Japan in 1985, however, passengers had no idea that the seat they chose would ultimately affect their chances of survival in the event of an accident, but there were also other factors.”
“Each of the four survivors of the 747, which crashed in Japan in August 1985, happened to be sitting in the last rows of the plane, but subsequent analysis found that a larger number of passengers survived the initial impact, but died due to the plane’s exposure to the mountainous location. The accident occurred after rescue teams did not arrive for several hours,” according to Fodors.
How to stay safe
Rest assured, passengers – airplanes are maintained to the highest standards, with the modern aviation industry having a safety record like no other.
In the event that there is an accident, the industry learns from it – ensuring it won’t happen again.
While there isn’t much passengers can do in the event of a serious accident, there are some safety steps you can take.
These including watching critical phases of the flight and paying attention to safety signs and tags.
No one seat is safer than any other, the TIME study says, but that’s alright. With modern air travel being so safe, passengers can put their faith into the trained professionals in charge of safety while they pick whichever seat they desire at their leisure.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm