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Which airplane seats are the safest?

Discovery Channel recently crashed a plane in the desert to find out.
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Heather Cleland, May 16, 2013 6:55:53 PM

When it comes to choosing your seat on an airplane, a few things come into play — window vs. aisle, legroom, proximity to the bathrooms. In other words, a whole bunch of stuff that has to do with comfort. But what’s the best seat on a plane when it comes to safety? There may be no better way to find out than deliberately crashing a plane, so good thing Discovery Channel did exactly that. Ultimately, though, flying remains incredibly safe so for the most part, any seat you choose will be perfectly safe, but in the extremely unlikely chance that your plane goes down — where should you be?

The Discovery Channel study
Last year, Discovery Channel produced a documentary that took a hard look at this question, and they didn’t just ask a bunch of experts what they thought.

What they did: In an experiment that probably made the Mythbusters very jealous, they actually crashed a Boeing 727 in the Mexican desert to see what would happen. The plane’s three pilots parachuted out a few minutes before impact and there were no other people on board — just crash test dummies. Cameras and sensors inside the plane recorded everything. The whole point was to recreate a survivable plane crash to see what happens.

What happened: The nose of the plane and the first ten rows of seats were destroyed. The farther back you went, the more survivable the impact of the plane was with some of the least-scathed crash test dummies in the back rows.

This conclusion reinforces what researchers at Popular Mechanics magazine discovered in a study they conducted back in 2007. They pored over 36 years worth of US crash reports and seating charts. They found that the farther back people were sitting during a crash, the more likely they were to survive — 40 percent more likely than those sitting in the first few rows.

Of course, a lot of the survivability of a plane crash has to do with the circumstances around the crash itself. Still, the biggest takeaway from all of this is that commercial air travel remains one of the safest ways to get around so no matter where you sit, you’ve got good reason to worry more about your comfort than your safety.

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Heather Cleland

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