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Study finds middle rear aircraft seats to be the safest

written by Daniel Croft | February 8, 2023

Credit: Airbus.

An aircraft’s least-popular seats have been proven to be the safest, with a new report revealing that the middle seat of an aircraft is safest place to be.

According to Doug Drury, professor of aviation at Central Queensland University, an investigation by TIME magazine analysing 35 years of aviation accident data has found the middle rear seats of an aircraft are the safest.

Those in middle seats in the rear third of the aircraft had a fatality rate of only 28 per cent, whilst those in aisle seats in the middle third of an aircraft were at the greatest risk, with a 44 per cent fatality rate.

“The middle seats are safer than the window or aisle seats, that is because of the buffer provided by having people on either side,” said Drury.

As a result, those closest to the emergency escape door are at a greater risk.


“Sitting next to an exit row will always provide you with the fastest exit in the case of an emergency, granted there’s no fire on that side,” acknowledges Drury.

“But the wings of a plane store fuel so this disqualifies the middle exit rows as the safest option.”

Ignoring which seat of the three a passenger is in (window, middle or aisle), the rear third was still the safest at 32 per cent, the middle third the most dangerous at 39 per cent and the front third only slightly better at 38 per cent.

Drury points out that in a nose-dive accident, no seat is particularly safe, but that in a level landing accident, seating at the back has a higher chance of survival.

“If pilots are trying to land but they don’t quite make it, then there is a probability that sitting in the back will have a higher chance of success of surviving than the people up front,” he said.

“The physics of an aircraft accident are not the same every single time.”

Despite the findings, Drury says that the interest in the middle seat is unlikely to increase, as people are most looking for the convenience of an aisle seat or the view from the window seat. Sitting in between two people is much less appealing.

This is not a concern, however, as numbers show that air travel fatalities are incredibly rare. The chance of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 205,552 compared to 1 in 102 if travelling in a car.

Airlines, in an attempt to increase the number of people on a flight, have run initiatives to encourage booking a middle seat. Virgin, for example, ran a ‘Middle Seat Lottery’, where passengers in the middle seat could win prizes.

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