You're Less Likely To Die In A Plane Crash If You Sit In The Back

In a plane crash, the seats in the back are the safest, Popular Mechanics statistical analysis of three decades of airplane crackups finds:

For several weeks, we poured [sic] over reports filed by NTSB crash investigators, as well as seating charts that showed where each passenger sat and whether they lived or died. We then calculated the average fore-and-aft seating position of both survivors and fatalities for each crash. We also compared survival rates in four sections of the aircraft.

Populists may harvest some pleasure from the fact that First Class passengers are paying a premium for an increased 20% likelihood that they will die when the airplane plummets to the earth.

Safest Seat on a Plane: PM Investigates How to Survive a Crash [Popular Mechanics]


Edit Your Comment

  1. dethl says:

    Back of the plane is the most fun too. When you take off you feel gravity pulling at you as you climb. It’s an awesome feeling!

  2. iamgibson says:

    Im still Sitting in first Class if a Pane that size Falls out of the sky everyones screwed anyways.

  3. gibsonic says:

    This is common sense. Good to put some numbers to it to prove it of course, but I’ve never heard of a plane tail diving into a mountain or ocean.

  4. ancientsociety says:

    No, no, no….if you sit in the back, you’re MORE likely to be taken by The Others

  5. pete says:

    So you’re telling me that when my travel agent puts me next to the lavatory, he’s actually doing me a favor?

  6. obbie says:

    ill remember this the next time i find myself in charge of seat placement on an airplane.

  7. beyond says:

    They say its not the crash that kills most people, its the resulting fire. Given a choice between dying on impact or burning alive in flaming wreckage, which would you choose?

    I still want a parachute. Even if its completely impractical and I die clutching to it while strapped into my chair, I will feel a lot better.

  8. notlazyjustdontcare says:

    They can’t choose the correct spelling of “pore” and I’m supposed to trust their statistics?

    Dying in a plane crash is like winning the lotto. If you play the lotto 20% more, you’ll still probably never win.

  9. bilge says:

    I think the Pan Am first class was where all the survivors of Tenerife were seated.

  10. Skyoodpov says:

    It seems me that this is a causation vs correlation argument.

    In the last 10 years, how many plane crashes HAD survivors. Probably 1 or 2 where simply the density of seating was roughly that of this chart. In the 2 plane crashes that had survivors, the crashes were such that this was the case.

    That being said, I am surprise “Over the Wing” is as safe as it is. Even though it is a main structural strong point of the plane, I would think there are a lot of fuel lines there. Things that go boom, and spray you with flaming jet-fuel.

  11. Trai_Dep says:

    Everything I ever needed to know about a plane crash I learned from Lost.

    Exactly where they store the polar bears on a transcontinental flight, is the only open Q I’ve got…

  12. dbeahn says:

    Ben only posted this cause if more of his readers survive, that means more click-thru and more ad revenue! ;)

  13. yg17 says:

    @bilge: That was a special case. IIRC, the KLM flight hit the back of the Pan Am flight. But for a “normal” crash, if the plane’s headed nose first into the ground, then it sorta makes sense that people in the back have a better chance of surviving.

    @notlazyjustdontcare: I always tell people who are scared of flying due to crashes that there’s a MUCH greater chance of them dying in a car accident on the way to the airport. Some people calm down, some people get even more scared.

  14. Pelagius says:

    We poured over reports? Poured what? Lighter fluid?

  15. WHEN it plummets? yikes…

  16. This has been common knowledge for ages. Minor plane crashes (say while landing; not the falling out of the sky variety) tend to do damage in the front of the plane, and if the plane is going to crack in half, that’s going to happen in right front of the wings.

    Back when parents used to fly separately in case of plane crashes (in the 80s and earlier) they used to also suggest parents sit over the wing or behind it if at all possible to maximize chances of survival in a crash.

  17. etinterrapax says:

    @notlazyjustdontcare: That “pour” business is definitely in my top-five usage peeves.

  18. jmuskratt says:

    4 8 15 16 23 42

  19. Ray Wert Jr says:

    @ancientsociety: Yeah, but I’m not a pregnant woman.

  20. Harlan says:

    Actually, you’re most likely to die driving to the airport, not actually flying. Flying is shockingly safe.

    I hope this statistic (statistically significant? I don’t know) gets popular, ’cause it’ll mean fewer people trying to take the good seats near the front of the plane!

  21. the REAL reason segregation came to an end…


  22. joeblevins says:

    I would still rather die up front than deal with the coach trash in the back. And btw, the polar bears were on the other island, they just swam across after the ‘event’.

  23. Trai_Dep says:

    Wait. I thought the bears where manifested by Walt, after he read the comic book.

    Damn bears!

  24. banned says:

    A study of 20 plane crashes, inside the US, is hardly a scientific study. 11-5 more back survive than front, this could entirely be luck. 3 tie and 1 unknown? Sure that’s a good record for a football team but certainly not conclusive.

  25. jamesdenver says:

    Uh – as the above poster said smoke and fire kills most if you end up surviving. I’ll take a seat next to the door so IF I survive I can actually BE of assistance in an emergency, and get my ass out while clearing the way for everyone else too.

  26. Amy Alkon says:

    This reminds me of that line, “In case of a water landing…” I think it was a piece in The Atlantic that noted – there’s never been a successful water landing.

  27. Thrust says:

    Anyone see the movie Alive, were the tail rips off the end of the plane? Yeah, go ahead and sit back there…

  28. tvh2k says:

    If they wanted safety, they’d make backward seating:

    “Safety experts say aft-facing seats are safer in a crash because rather than being thrown forward, passengers in a backward facing seat would be pressed back into their seats.”
    [Denver Post]

  29. 5cents says:

    Gibsonic and Eye Mcgee are right. PM is being asinine. Planes fly forward. So those in front get it worse (qvickly, before ze Germans get ‘ere, Tommy). If they flew backwards, the situation would be reversed. Does PM need to prove this with numbers? Who cares, if your plane is going down, location is the least of your worries as the other commenters have noted.

  30. jodles says:

    i read a book called “stiff” about the use of human cadavers for scientific studies, and one of the top experts on studying plane crashes, Dennis Shanahan, and he simply says that it all depends on the type of crash. planes break apart mid-air and can separate in the back or the front. he says to sit by the window, because the people sitting on the aisles will get hit with all of the luggage coming from the overhead bins.

  31. Lavanaut says:

    Ah-ha hush that fuss…everybody move to the back of the Airbus. Seriously though, now that they have these numbers, it’s only a matter of time until ALL of the seats are in the back, right? Personally I like sitting back there because I enjoy the constant, rhythmic flushing of the skytoilet.

    @ancientsociety ~ NICE!

  32. faust1200 says:

    Duh. When is the last time you heard about a plane backing into a mountain?

  33. Hobo-NC says:

    I wonder about the methodology of the study. Did they just add up all the survivors and divide by the number of crashes? Or did they look at a case-by-case analysis. For example, one very big plane with lots of survivors in the back could skew the results favorably, even though rearward passengers could have died in in a greater number of *flights* (i.e., but not in the overall sum).

  34. douglips says:

    misleading statistics. You have a 31% chance of dying in the back, and 51% chance in the front. While that looks like a “20% increase”, the chance that you will die is actually 66% higher in the front than in the back.

    To illustrate, imagine you had a 1% chance of dying in the back and 5% in the front. You are FIVE TIMES AS LIKELY to die in the front, even though it’s a “4% increase”.

  35. @jodles: THAT was a superfantastic book and everyone should read it!

  36. jamesdenver says:

    That reminds me I hope Lost gets back on track this fall and actually finishes some of the plots they’ve started instead of adding new ones.

  37. @rocnrule:

    Exactly – and this non-news is heavily weighted by the Dallas L-1011 crash in 1986, where the tail section broke off and stopped moving while the rest of the plane hit two 4-million gallon water tanks, exploded, and killed nearly everyone in the front two-thirds of the jet. From the Wikipedia article on the crash of Delta flight 191:

    Most of the survivors of Flight 191 were located in the rear section of the aircraft which broke free from the main fuselage before the aircraft hit the water tanks.

  38. 5cents says:


    Hah! That is a brilliant reply!

    “Ah-ha hush that fuss…everybody move to the back of the Airbus.”

  39. @Amy Alkon: there’s never beena succeeful water landing

    Not actually true, but would you have overwater flights get rid of the floatation devices anyway? What if your jet rolls off the end of the runway and ends up in a lake?

    Again, from Wikipedia, here’s a relevant section:

  40. gawkimo says:

    >> and get my ass out while clearing the way for everyone else too. <<

    Are you kidding? Clear the way for others. The on;y clearing I’m going to be doing is clearing my pat to the emergency exit (I’ve heard it’s better to go over seats than try to get into the aisle and follow a buch of silly lights like 300 other people.)

    If I’m trapped in a burning fuselage, I’m gettin’ out Costanza style: pushing old ladies and children down to get out.

  41. Thrust says:

    Okies. First, easiest way to survive airplane crashes is to not have been on the accursed thing in the first place. Failing that, stay to the back of the plane, make a fort out of all the pillows and blankets to soften the impact (and to keep the cooties infested girls out), and stay away from fat people.

    Or you could just be smarter than the average bear, bring a parachute as your carry-on and request the emergency exit seat. Though that same action may also get you arrested since looking after your own safety, and being a threat to the plane are typically the same thing.

  42. acambras says:


    Unfortunately, I think Lost is on hiatus until January. :-(

  43. Havok154 says:

    Like my uncle always said, “I’ve never seen a plane back into a mountain”.

  44. frogman31680 says:

    I think I’d rather be falling on top of a hundred people than a hundred people falling on top of me.

    This just makes sense to me. Plus at night, I hear that is where the wild drunken parties the Flight Attendants always go to.

  45. mconfoy says:

    The odds of dying in a plane crash are greater than drawing two royal flushes in a row in 5 card draw poker. Think about that one before you worry about your seat.

  46. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @Thrust: Amen. How about checking the statistics of people driving instead of flying surviving if a plane crashes onto their car?
    If God had wanted men to fly, he would reverse gravity every couple minutes, sit back, and laugh.

  47. mathew says:

    The downside of sitting at the back is deafening engine noise, if you’re on a plane with tail-mounted engines. That’s why it’s always good to check what kind of plane you’re gonna be on before choosing a seat.

  48. synergy says:

    I think you’d be screwed no matter what. On the other hand, I’d lose my mind waiting for 300 people to get their shit together and get the F off the plane while I’m standing and waiting way in the back. That’s always drives me insane. People who wait until people ahead of them start moving to decide, “oh wait! I should get my shit out from the overhead compartment.” *headdesk*

  49. synergy says:

    “Stiff” by Mary Roach is a great book. Everyone should read it.

  50. bchains says: