|Where is the safest place to
sit on an airplane?
The short answer is there is no safest seat. There are some people who
believe it will be safer to be seated near the wings or in the rear of
the cabin. However, there is no evidence that any one part of an aircraft
is safer than another one. In an aircraft accident where the plane
is seriously damaged or one or more occupants are injured or killed, the
severity of the injuries depends on many factors, some of which may not
be apparent until an accident occurs. For example, there have been many
accidents involving heavy smoke or fire where survival depended on the
ability of the passengers to not panic and to quickly remove themselves
and others from the aircraft after landing.
Clearly there are some major airlines such as Southwest of the USA which
have not had a passenger die in an accident and others such as Pan Am and
Eastern which have had several fatal events. Those facts don't make one
airline automatically safer than the other although it does affect the
public's perception of safety. The most important indicator of the overall
safety of an airline is how it is regulated by its nation's civil aviation
authority. Airlines operating large capacity (over 30 seat) aircraft in
the major industrialized countries have to follow the strictest safety
regulations. While the airlines operating smaller capacity aircraft have
the choice of operating under the same rules, these smaller aircraft are
not certified to the same standards as larger ones. Just as importantly,
the airports and air traffic control system have to adhere to similarly
high standards. Beyond that, use your good common sense. If an airline
is notorious for poor on time performance, lots of passenger complaints,
and severe financial problems, then perhaps it is time to find an alternative
In general, all aircraft in a particular class have to adhere to the
same set of standards. When safety concerns arise because of one or more
accidents associated with a particular model, the civil aviation authorities
of the major industrialized countries will usually require that the issue
be addressed in all relevant aircraft models. For example, fatal airline
accidents due to wind shear in the 1970s and 1980s in the U.S. led to a
number of innovations in aircraft and ground wind shear detection systems
and also in flight crew training which has led to a reduction in the risk
of accidents due to that weather phenomena.
In the United States, it is 22 times safer flying in a commercial jet
than traveling by car, according to a 1993-95 study by the U.S. National
Safety Council comparing accident fatalities per million passenger-miles
traveled. The number of U.S. highway deaths in a typical six-month period
— about 21,000 roughly equals all commercial jet fatalities worldwide since
the dawn of jet aviation four decades ago. In fact, fewer people have died
in commercial airplane accidents in America over the past 60 years than
are killed in U.S. auto accidents in a typical three-month period.
For every accident, there are dozens, even hundreds of unusual circumstances
that can happen during a flight. For a passenger, the most likely emergencies
that you will face where you will have to do something is an evacuation
of the aircraft using the emergency slides or using the emergency oxygen
system. In most cases, the evacuation is ordered as a precautionary measure,
not because the passengers face imminent danger. Emergency oxygen masks
may be deployed automatically or be deployed manually by the flight crew.
In most cases, deployment of the masks does not indicate that the passengers
are in imminent danger.
They're exceedingly rare. The risk of being involved in a commercial
jet aircraft accident where there are multiple fatalities is approximately
one in three million. To put this in perspective, you’d have to fly once
every day for more than 8,200 years to accumulate three million flights.
But even though fatal jet accidents are rare, the aviation community world-wide
is continuing to work together to reduce them. If one considers a
crash to be a fatal accident as defined by the civil aviation authorities,
then it happens infrequently. According to the U.S. National Transportation
Safety Board, in the 11 years spanning 1984 to 1994, there were 49 fatal
accidents involving U. S. operators of large capacity (over 30 passenger
seats) air carrier aircraft. There was a minimum of one fatal accident
in 1984 and 1993 and a maximum of 11 in 1989. The fewest people killed
in one year was one in 1993 and the most was 526 in 1985. For smaller U.S.
registered aircraft in scheduled service, there were 59 fatal accidents
and the fatal accident rate per million flights was always greater than
that of the larger aircraft.
Takeoff and the climb to cruising altitude, and the descent and landing
of an airplane are the two most risk-prone periods of a flight. In overly
simplistic terms, takeoff demands the most from an airplane in terms of
engine thrust and structural integrity, while final approach and landing
demand the most of the cockpit crew. About three-fourths of all serious
accidents occur during these two relatively brief phases of a flight.