The Safest Seat on an Airplane Isn’t the One You Think (Plus, the Worst Seats You Should Never Choose)
With the recent Southwest Airlines accident that left one woman dead and others severely traumatized, many jet setters are concerned. Could this freak accident possibly happen to them? And should they forego the highly-coveted window seat altogether in light of this?
Everyone has a slightly different preference when it comes to where they’re seated on a plane. But researchers are now finding there really are “good” and “bad” seats. Find out the safest possible seat on page 8, as well as the worst seats you may be tempted to choose.
1. Survival mainly depends on the extent of the crash
Here’s the reality of the situation: While you can pick the “safest” seat on the plane, the best seat also mainly depends on what kind of crash the plane experiences. TIME explains some crashes involve mainly the tail, and in this case, passengers in the front and middle may be better off. On the other hand, issues involving the front of the plane leave those near the tail with stronger odds.
The Federal Aviation Administration, therefore, can’t give a definitive answer as to what the safest seat is. But according to past data, we still have insights into your best options.
Next: When browsing your seat options, choose one around this area of the plane.
2. Choose: Somewhere in the back third of the plane
TIME looked into the Federal Aviation Administration’s database for information on airplane crashes that had both fatalities and survivors. After looking at 17 of these crash examples from 1985 to 2000, it was clear what section of the plane you should sit in for the best chance of survival.
The analysis found seats in the front third of the plane had a 38% fatality rate. The back third of the plane, however, had a 32% rate, giving it the slight advantage.
Next: This seat isn’t necessarily dangerous, but you won’t want it anyway.
3. Don’t choose: The seat with the entertainment box
Travelers United notes those in-flight entertainment systems you’re used to are fun, but they come at a cost. And that means you may be stuck with the entertainment box under your seat. You can kick that precious leg room goodbye, in this case.
This isn’t hazardous as far as your safety is concerned. But if you’re on a long flight and need to get the blood flowing, you’ll want to make sure you’re not choosing the seat with the box.
Next: The flight attendants make you pay attention to these areas for a reason.
4. Choose: A seat near an emergency exit
Sitting next to an emergency exit gives you an extra set of responsibilities. If an emergency was to occur, you’d need to assist with the process. But BBC notes that also means you’ll be one of the first ones out of the plane, which may put your mind at ease.
Additionally, emergency exit rows tend to have more room. Relish in that extra inch of reclining space if you so happen to snag a seat in this aisle.
Next: This seat may seem reasonable, but it’s one of the worst.
5. Don’t choose: The seat in the last row
No one kicking your seat is certainly a perk of the last row. But unless you want to be smelling the bathroom and listening in to what the flight attendants are arranging directly behind you, The Sun points out you really don’t want this seat. Not only that, but the last seats in the row usually don’t recline. That’s bad news for anyone hoping to get a nap in on the flight.
Next: Hate turbulence? Choose this seat.
6. Choose: A seat over the wings for a smooth ride
According to Dr. Quay Snyder, president of Aviation Medicine Advisory Service, those heavily affected by turbulence should choose a seat directly over one of the wings, The Huffington Post reports. This is because the front and back of the plane bounce more in flight. You may also want to keep in mind that larger, heavier aircrafts will offer you a smoother ride.
Next: It might seem like this is a safe seat, but it’s more of a nuisance than anything.
7. Don’t choose: The seat next to the main exit
You get plenty of leg room with the seats nearest the main exit door, this is true. But USA Today notes you won’t be able to stow any of your belongings under the seat in front of you, since there isn’t one. Not only that, but the seats in this row are reduced in width. And if you’re easily chilled, this also isn’t the ideal seat for you either, as this row tends to be colder than others in the plane.
Next: If safety is your primary concern, this is the seat for you.
8. The absolute safest seat: Middle seats in the back of the plane
The latest Southwest incident may have you wanting to get as far away from the window seat as possible. But TIME mentions the safest seat is actually right in the middle and in the back of the aircraft. Perhaps that’s because you’re surrounded by people on both sides who would take the majority of the impact from flying debris. Being in the middle does put you at a possible disadvantage for the leaving the aircraft first, however.
Next: This is the seat that’s the most unsafe of them all.
9. The seat that’s most unsafe: Aisle seats in the middle of the plane
It may surprise you to know that the window seat may be safer than the aisle. TIME’s research finds the aisle seats in the middle third of the cabin had a fatality rate of 44%. Compare that to the fatality rate of the middle seats in the back, which is only 28%.
Don’t think you’re doomed just because you have an aisle seat, however. The publication also notes those close to an exit have increased odds of survival.
Next: If sleeping is important to you, this is the seat you should go for.
10. Choose: A window seat on the left side for optimal sleeping
Those who travel frequently by plane say window seats on the left side are the best if you’re looking to get some quality shut-eye, The Huffington Post notes. Not only do you get a surface to lean on, but the windows are off-center on the left side. This means you won’t have to put your head directly on the window itself.
You might also want to go for the middle of the aircraft here. It’s likely quieter than in the back or the front.
Next: This seems like the perfect space, but think twice.
11. Don’t choose: The back rows of two seats
If you’re in a plane where the last few rows have just two seats each and the rest of the plane has three seats in a row, know there’s some awkward spacing going on back there. It might seem tempting to have a bit of extra room, but USA Today warns not to bother.
There’s typically a large gap between your seat and the window, making it impossible to sleep. And if there’s anyone behind you, they’re likely to use this extra room between your seat and the window as leg room for themselves. You’ve been warned.
Next: Want the quietest seat on the plane? Choose this location
12. Choose: A seat in the front
The Huffington Post offers another suggestion for those wanting a quiet ride. If you choose a seat up front, you might hear some casual flight attendant chatter — but you’ll be far from the roar of the engines. You should also go for an aisle seat if noise is your primary concern. Window seats are much, much louder.
Next: This whole row is a mistake.
13. Don’t choose: The row in front of an exit
The exit rows may have a ton of leg room, but there’s one row that has significantly less than you think. And if you’re stuck in the row right in front of the exits, be prepared to feel cramped, USA Today warns.
The reason this row is more cramped than the rest is that the seats barely recline. This is to ensure that in the event of an emergency, passengers can exit without the obstacle of a reclined seat. But as far as comfort goes, this row should be avoided.
Next: Traveling with children? These seats are your best bet.
14. Choose: A seat behind the bulkhead if you have kids
Bringing kids on a plane can be stressful, so do yourself a favor and reserve the bulkhead seats. Seat Guru explains these seats are directly behind the physical partition that divides classes. You’ll get way more leg room if you choose this spot for your family. And since there’s no seat in front of you, no one will be reclining into you, either.
If you’re not traveling with kids and you like the idea of the bulkhead seats, be wary — you might be around more children in this area than you wanted.
Next: This seems obvious, but still, don’t choose this seat.
15. Don’t choose: The seat next to the bathroom
Adverse to strong smells and people walking past you every 10 minutes? Just say no to a seat near the bathroom, then. It may seem convenient to be as close to the lavatory as possible, particularly if you know your flight is long. But even so, you’ll have to deal with the hustle and bustle of the restroom, as well as whatever smells arise. Good luck with this one.
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