Aeroplane travel: Which is the safest seat on a flight and why?

While flying is one of the safest ways to travel news of air disasters can put you off. But where you sit can improve your survival rates - here's why....

2016 was the safest year to fly in the history of aviation, according to the Aviation Safety Network (ASN), with 16 fatal crashes worldwide resulting in 560 deaths.

That sounds like a lot of casualties, but with almost 40 million flights taking off each year, you’re statistically much more likely to die crossing the road or even be killed by lightning than you are to die in a plane crash.

[Read more: Why do you have to keep blinds up on take-off and landing?]

Nevertheless, many of us still have panic attacks at the thought of stepping on an aircraft.

If you’re in the 10% of the population who is afraid of flying, it might help you to know that some parts of the plane are deemed safer than others.

In 2012, Channel 4 made a documentary called The Plane Crash, which simulated an accident by using remote control to crash land an actual Boeing 727 into the desert in Mexico. Crash test dummies were strapped into various seats in the plane and onboard cameras revealed what happened to each one as the jet hit the ground.

Should you ‘turn left’?

First class seats may seem like the height of sophistication, but those who sit at the front of the plane are more likely to die in a crash as the nose impacts into the ground first, the Channel 4 programme found.

[Read more: 5 incredible revelations from Air Crash Investigations]

Here, a force of 12G was recorded, compared to 6G towards the back of the plane.

However, a Time magazine study of data from the US Federal Aviation Administration over a 35-year period found that the front seats were marginally safer than the middle ones, with a 38% fatality rate in the front third compared to 39% in the middle and 32% in the back third.

Sit near an exit

Once the plane has crashed, it’s best to get off as soon as possible to boost your chances of survival. Those sitting within five rows of an emergency exit have the best chance of getting out alive in a fire, according to a 2008 study by the University of Greenwich, commissioned by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

However, according to the CAA, there are some passengers, including children and those who have difficulty moving quickly, who may not be permitted to sit in a seat row next to an emergency exit, because they might delay the exit doors being opened and the evacuation of the plane.

Aisle or window?

The window seat might get you views and a flight undisturbed by weak-bladdered neighbours, but in the aisle, you are ‘marginally’ better off in the event of a crash. According to the Greenwich study, aisle seats carried a 65% chance of survival compared to 58% for window seats.

However, the Time magazine study found that fewest people perished in the middle seats in the rear of the aircraft (a 28% fatality rate). The seats which fared the worst were those on the aisle in the middle third of the cabin, with a 44% fatality rate.

So which is the safest seat?

If you weight up the evidence we've presented, a middle-of-the-row seat at the rear of the aeroplane within five rows of an emergency exit is probably the safest seat on the plane.

However, it depends entirely on which end of the plane takes most of the impact. Just make sure to wear your seatbelt.

National Geographic’s Air Crash Investigation is back on Thursdays at 9pm.

National Geographic Channel is one of 60 premium channels available on BT TV along with other channels such as History, Comedy Central, Discovery and many more.

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