Air travel is the safest form of transportation in the country. In 2016, for the seventh year in a row, exactly zero people died from plane crashes on U.S.-certified scheduled airlines. Experts estimate your overall odds of perishing in a plane crash are well into the millions.
But curious travelers may still wonder about the safest place to be in the event of a very unlikely accident. The answer, it turns out, depends on the type of crash you’re in.
“Each incident or crash is unique,” said Alison Duquette, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration. Impact could come from a nosedive, a water landing or a runway collision, for example. As a result, she said, “There is no safest seat.”
The National Transportation Safety Board doesn’t keep seat-related statistics and hasn’t done studies on the safest plane seats, a spokesman told HuffPost.
But two major media outlets have. In 2007, Popular Mechanics took matters into its own hands and analyzed NTSB data for every commercial plane crash in the U.S. since 1971 that had both survivors and fatalities and for which a detailed seating chart was accessible. Their conclusion?
Passengers near the tail of a plane were about 40 percent more likely to survive a crash than those in the front.
Seats in the back of the plane, behind the trailing edge of the wing, had a 69 percent survival rate, while seats over the wing and in coach had a 56 percent survival rate. The front 15 percent of seats had a 49 percent survival rate, analysts found.
A second analysis in 2015, for which researchers at Time went through 35 years of FAA data, found similar results. The group narrowed their research to 17 accidents dating back to 1985 that had both fatalities and survivors and for which seating charts were available. Time found seats in the rear third of the aircraft had a lower fatality rate (32 percent) than seats in the overwing (39 percent) or front (38 percent) thirds of the plane.
Specifically, middle seats in the rear section specifically fared best by far, with a fatality rate of 28 percent.
The least safe were aisle seats in the middle third of the cabin, which had a fatality rate of 44 percent.
The Time researchers noted that the specific circumstances of a crash can render these averages irrelevant. But by and large, the back of the plane is the place to be.
Of course, there are ways to increase your chances of survival no matter where you’re seated. Pay attention to the safety briefing, know the number of rows to your nearest exit, and be prepared to brace yourself in the event of a very unlikely crash.