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The Safest Seat on an Airplane

by John Webber

Flying is very safe, and thanks to technological advances, it’s only getting safer. Despite the fact that the odds of your plane going down are around one in 5.4 million, and that traveling by car is 100 times more deadly than hopping on a plane, many travelers are disconcerted by the mere idea of a metal tube flying through the air. Some fliers, frequent or otherwise, want to know where to sit to on a plane to improve their odds of surviving a crash, no matter how unlikely.

Last year, TIME analyzed airplane accidents and seating charts to determine which seats on a plane were safest, and anyone who pays extra to sit in up front may not like the results. Turns out that the dreaded middle seats in the rear of the aircraft have the best outcomes.

To come to this conclusion, TIME went through the Federal Aviation Administration’s CSRTG Aircraft Accident Database looking for accidents with both fatalities and survivors so they could determine where the lucky survivors were sitting. Their research revealed 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.”

If you did want to avoid certain seats, the study revealed that aisle seats in the middle third of the cabin had a 44 percent fatality rate. The middle seats in the back of the plane had the lowest fatality rate at 28 percent, so keep that in mind the next time you’re stuck there.

A 2008 study by the University of Greenwich noted that other possibly safer spots on the plane are the two rows closest to the emergency exits. This could be because those seated there could exit the plane more quickly if they had to.

While the study is interesting, especially as it provides a silver lining if you are stuck in a middle seat, it’s important to note that the FAA says there is no safest seat on the plane (unless you’re a child, then the safest seat is in an approved child seat). This is because when a crash happens, which, again, is rare, the chances of survival depend not on seat choice, but on the circumstances surrounding the crash. If the back of the plane takes the brunt of the impact, those rear middle seats will not protect you, and those in the front could fare better. Similarly, a nose-first crash could make things far worse for those in first class.     @wbbrjp

TIME also noted, that survival was frequently completely random —with survivors scattered irregularly around the plane.

While there may be a run on rear middle seats, most travelers should just take a page out of the FAA handbook and just pick a seat they find comfortable (enough) on one of the world’s safest airlines.

“Do not go where the path leads, travel instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

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