This is a question I often hear asked and discussed. It seems that many have varying opinions on the matter (as do I), but there are some reasonable stats to look at when considering the answer as well as thorough case studies to consider. For the purpose of this article I shall discuss both and share my opinion on the matter. I also welcome yours in the comments.
First let’s consider safety from an accident perspective. Although accidents are rare they are more probably than a stand alone hostile takeover and at times will overlap with a hijacking; for that simple reason they should be given a higher priority in the risk analysis. What I mean by that is that if the two scenarios have conflicting recommendations then the more probably risk should be given precedence, however often times there is a good compromise (speaking of general risk mitigation).
So, back to the plane. Surprisingly there is a lack of aviation based studies on the subject openly published. Then again it’s not really that surprising. If you’re trying to sell tickets on a plane you don’t want to necessarily state that certain seats are safer than others…. especially when they don’t correlate with your first class seats. That’s why it’s not surprising to run across quotes such as these:
“One seat is as safe as the other.”
Boeing Web site
“There is no safest seat.”
The only problem is, that’s a statistically false statement. Before I get into statistics let me say this. Air travel is statistically one of the safest modes of travel with odds around 1 in 8000 of becoming a fatality (Time Magazine) it even beats out traveling by foot. That’s right, statistically it’s safer to fly than walk. Nonetheless there are still statistics and fatalities that can be observed and studied. When conducted, virtually every honest look at the facts show that the safest area of the plane to fly in is the back. One of the more comprehensive studies available was conducted by Popular Mechanics. In their study they studied every commercial Jet crash in the United States since 1971. Their conclusion; It’s approximately 40% safer to fly in the back of the plane.
View their article here
But now what about in the case of a Hijacking incident? Unfortunately seat selection will not do a whole lot for you in this situation and there doesn’t seem to be any truly reliable studies to indicate one seat is better than another in hijacking incident…….statistically that is. This is primarily due to the human element. In a hijacking there are people making personal decisions on the taking of life and therefore we’re less likely to see the same type of statistical trends you would find with crash data. With crash data there are many commonalities such as similar construction designs, similar flight patterns and emergency procedures etc. Unfortunately terrorist aren’t quite as reliable as cold hard predictors. With that said I should note that in many aspects they are predictable, but most of that is outside the scope of this article so I won’t cover it here (although we cover it in depth in our ‘At Risk Programs’.
Nonetheless I believe there are some steps you can take to mitigate the situations. In relation to seat selection we recommend a few simple things. It basically boils down to one principal which can also be applied outside of seat selection. Blend in. Simple right? It really is a relatively simple technique but one that could save your life. Going back to seat selection. Choose a seat that doesn’t stand out. This would mean to stay away from emergency exit seats as well as aisle ways. In addition I recommend to distance yourself as best you can from higher traffic points such as the restroom and Flight attendant seating areas. The basic goal here is to minimize yourself being a randomly selected target due to ease of access.
The reality is that your seat selection alone will have minimal impact on surviving a hijacking, however any increase in your chance of survival should be considered and implemented when possible. So now let’s consider the overall picture. If you remember in the beginning of this article I discussed that balancing out the risk mitigation. With all the information considered I would consider the safest place to sit being the near the aft of the aircraft yet somewhat off the back bulkhead (dividing wall). In a two aisle aircraft I would choose to sit on the right side of the aircraft (to your left if walking down the aisle) in the middle seat. I make this decision for a few reasons. Bullets travel walls (although likely to enter the soft material of a plane’s interior) and windows draw attention therefore the middle is safer. The reason I choose the right side is due to a universal statistic. Most individuals are right handed and therefore tend to visually orient to the right first. In addition they will likely being carrying their weapon on the right which further puts you in sight on their strong side. In a three aisle plane I would choose the middle aisle centered or slightly to the right side of the aircraft.
I hope you enjoyed this article and it has given you some food for thought on your next traveling adventure; I also hope you never have to test it. If this material interest you then you may really enjoy checking out our At Risk Training Programs.