Flying is one of the safest forms of transportation and it’s only getting safer as technology advances. Reports are mixed about the extremely low odds of being in a plane crash as some say one in five million, while others report one in eleven million. And that makes sense because there was a reported 38 million global flights in 2018 alone. That number is expected to increase by one million in 2019 according to Statista. With that being said, your chances of being in a plane related crash are very low — Lonely Planet suggests that it’s safer than staying at home. But still, we understand the fear of flying.
So, is there a way to be intentional about our plane safety? Well, here’s some good news to the people in economy class: You’re sitting in the safest spot! A 2015 analysis by Time Magazine shows that middle seats in the rear of the plane, aka the most uncomfortable spot, hold the highest survival rate. Time found that the fatality rate of people in the back of planes is less than the front. Another study by Popular Mechanics also backs the claim that passengers near the tail-end of a plane are about 40 percent more likely to survive a crash than those in the first few rows up front.
We spoke with Christopher Babayode, who worked as a flight attendant for 20 years and authored the book Farewell Jetlag: Cures from a Flight Attendant, to learn how to participate in safe travel and increase chances of survival. Don’t be too bummed the next time you look down at your ticket and read 30B… it could be a good thing!
Be aware of the safety procedures
All too often we tend to zone out during the safety demonstration of the aircraft. You may have taken a few flights… can you actually remember what to do in the event of an emergency? Chances are, you do.
“Early on in my career, it used to bug me that only half the passengers seemed attentive to the safety demonstration,” said Christopher. “That was until I read of a Scandinavian study that suggested that upwards of 80 percent or so did not pay particular attention to the demonstration, but were competent in getting off the aircraft in an emergency if they needed to.”
That being said, it’s still important to listen to the airplane safety instructions. Some airlines go above and beyond to make it attention-grabbing, such as Air New Zealand’s cinematic safety briefing starring actor Adrian Grenier. And while these videos are entertaining, it’s also wise to read the safety card in the seat pocket as every plane is different.
The reality of the matter is that in an emergency situation, you may be nervous, overwhelmed, and scared. This may fog your judgment. The masks that drop from the overhead aren’t meant to scare you, but rather deliver oxygen through your nose and mouth in order to keep you awake and alert. That way you can better pay attention to your surroundings during an emergency.
Learn to love the back of the plane
It might seem like a bummer as you mosey down the aisle toward the rear of the plane. Seriously, who wants to fight over the armrests in a middle seat near the smelly toilets? As much as it sucks, learn to embrace it as it’s the safest places to sit on the plane. TIME went through the Federal Aviation Administration’s CSRTG Aircraft Accident Database in order to draw this conclusion. While Popular Mechanics pored over reports filed by NTSB crash investigators and studied seating charts that showed where each passenger sat and whether they lived or died.
“Sometimes, I had to tactfully remind passengers that if they research plane crashes from the past, often times the tail section is kept intact,” said Christopher.
Although it might be a bit unsettling to research past plane crashes, Christopher has a point. As planes go down, it’s usually the front of the aircraft that braces the impact. But again, your chances of being in a plane crash are very low. There was only 18 fatal plane crashes between 2014 and March 2019, based on information from the Aviation Safety Network, the BBC, and the Washington Post.
No matter where you sit, be aware of where the exits are on each aircraft. This will help ensure a speedy exit during an emergency. CNN suggests visualizing how you — and the children you’re traveling with — are going to get out of the plane. Be alert during takeoff and landing as that’s when most plane crashes occur, according to statistics.
Trust the cabin crew
The cabin crew is there to make sure everything runs smoothly. They have your best interest at heart. Pilots and flight attendants go through extensive training to practice all types of emergency scenarios. So listen to their instructions during the flight — you’re in good hands!
“Follow the advice of the crew,” said Christopher. “That way all passengers exit in the quickest way possible with minimum injury.”
If you’re nervous about flying, in general, be transparent about your fears and tell a flight attendant. We can’t promise any extra peanuts, but they will check to make sure you’re having a safe travel experience.
“Always tell the crew if you are a nervous flier when you board the plane,” said Christopher. “Often times, they will check on you to see if there is anything specific they can do to help.”
Still nervous about flying?
That’s okay! There are a lot of guides out there to help soothe your plane travel experience. As a passenger, you can take steps to prepare for the flight by checking the turbulence forecast, attending a fear of flying clinic, or practicing meditation.
“Take a nervous flier course. The best ones are run by airlines and you get real cabin crew and pilots in the room with you who will explain procedures and reassure you,” suggested Christopher. “These courses help you get used to the different stages of the flight and reinforce the fact that flying is one of the safest modes of transportation.”
Christopher’s book Farewell Jet Lag: Cures from a Flight Attendant not only helps solve issues of jet lag but also teaches the reader how to have healthy flying experience. This might help build the confidence you need to fly from A to B.
Everyone has their own relationship with flying. In terms of being realistic about strategically choosing a plane seat — there’s really no guarantee that the back is the safest as it depends on the circumstances of the crash. Just be sure to follow the airplane safety instructions and be positive about the experience. Like we said, flying is safe.