What’s the Safest Seat on an Airplane?

Ah hurtling through the air in a device made of several million parts in a portion of the Earth where the temperature generally sits at -40 degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit and there isn’t enough oxygen or atmospheric pressure to keep you alive. All the while a rather complex combination of a controlled explosion and rapidly spinning parts is both providing the oxygen you’re breathing, initially at 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 200 degrees Celsius (more on this in the Bonus Facts later), while it also propels you along at hundreds of miles per hour in order to defeat gravity’s deathly pull. In the meantime, some smiling individual serves you a tasty beverage and a little bag of pretzels. As you go through turbulence and see the wings of your plane bending back and forth at upwards of 7 meters of flex at the tips, you may find yourself rethinking your life choices. But while all the factors that go into asserting dominance over gravity and distance may make it seem bonkers that this is a practically feasible mode of transportation, as I think most are aware, outside of riding an elevator, which is arguably the safest way to travel, there really isn’t much of a safer way out there to get from point A to point B than large commercial aircraft, not even walking. That said, commercial aviation accidents still do happen. So, if you do ever find yourself in such, what is the safest seat on the airplane for you to be sitting in order to reduce the odds of being injured or dying? And what other ways can you ensure you’re as least likely as possible to cease to exist on a plane if it ever plummets from the sky while you’re sitting in it?

Well, put your tray tables and seatbacks in their upright position, fasten your safety belt, and let’s nose dive into it all, shall we? And further look at a rather crazy incident in 2012 in Mexico in which the pilots deliberately parachuted out of a Boeing 727, which then plummeted towards the Earth afterward.

How Bonkersly Safe Commercial Passenger Aviation Has Become

To begin with, ever since the first ever person killed in a plane crash (we’ll get to this person, a passenger aboard a plane flown by one of the Wright Brothers, in the Bonus Facts later), people have been freaking out and obsessing over deaths from air travel despite that, as noted, commercial airline travel is extremely safe. But what perhaps gets lost on people is just how bonkersly safe it has become in the last two decades. For example, in 2022 there were over 70 million commercial passenger transport aviation flights carrying a total of close to 5 billion passengers. How many of these 5 billion passengers died? 174. That’s it. Further, if you happen to live in Europe, China, the U.S., Japan, Canada, Australia, Israel, or New Zealand, the data shows you are about 30 times less likely to die in a given commercial aviation flight than in more undeveloped regions of the world where older planes and more lax regulations abound. But even in the worst of these regions, they still achieve an astounding safety rating of about only 1 death per 1.2 million passengers. Important to point out is that this latter worst case data is about a 3 fold improvement over the global average in 1977 of about 1 in 350,000 passengers, which was still pretty crazy safe compared to all other forms of transport.

As Arold Barnett of MIT noted after authoring the study on airline safety in 2020 that we pulled that data from, “The worldwide risk of being killed had been dropping by a factor of two every decade… The pace of improvement has not slackened at all even as flying has gotten ever safer and further gains become harder to achieve.”

As to how these incredible rates have been achieved and continue to improve rapidly despite already being about as close to zero odds as one can practically get, the various regulatory bodies the world over, such as the FAA in the United States, are downright obsessed with reducing the number of deaths from commercial aviation accidents to zero, despite how completely impossible this would have seemed a half century ago. And in fact in the U.S. they actually have achieved this among U.S. based commercial passenger jet airliners over American soil in recent years, with most sources claiming not 1 fatality that meets those criteria since 2009. However, this isn’t fully accurate, there was actually 1 death if you really dig into it. Just 1 since 2009. We’ll get into that in a bit.

This, again, is all thanks to a level of obsession over safety that is unparalleled in any other form of transportation. If the various regulatory bodies overseeing countless other facets of life took the same attitude and with the same fervor and willingness to throw quite literally any amount of money at the problems, there’d be a lot fewer deaths everywhere. For example, in automobile accidents, injuries and deaths could be reduced by orders of magnitude overnight simply by requiring all car manufacturers to switch up the seating arrangement so that all seats, except the driver’s for practical reasons, face backwards, saving upwards of hundreds of thousands of lives per year and reducing injuries to millions more. A tiny change compared to what bodies like the FAA require of airline manufacturers to even just squeeze out a few extra probable saved lives. But seemingly this will never happen because most people don’t like the idea, and everybody feels relatively safe driving in a car, despite how dangerous it actually is.

Of course, in aviation, given the widespread fear of the act of hurtling through the air, most people are quite happy that the regulatory bodies overseeing flight are so incredibly obsessed with safety no matter the cost or even inconvenience to passengers going through the process of going through the airport to get to the plane, all while happily driving along in our likely speeding automobiles to the airport, rocking out to some great, blaring music while texting our friends and eating our McDonald’s at the same time, which totally and in no way will contribute to you being one of those 60,000 or so people who die every single day of heart disease. For reference, this would be the equivalent of around 400 commercial aviation passenger jet crashes every single day where all aboard were killed…

Humans. It really is good Grabthar is coming soon with his lizard army to take over. We simply cannot be trusted with making good choices. But Grabthar will show us the way. And while toiling away in his sugar caves, things we should actually be worrying about and having governments of the world quite literally throw ALL THE MONEY at like heart disease (20 million deaths per year and rising fast) and cancer (10 million deaths per year) will surely be reduced from all the extra exercise as we toil and reduction in ultraviolet ray exposure coming from the glowing orb in the sky bent on destroying us all…

Speaking of things in the sky bent on destroying us all. It’s not planes. So let’s now talk about the actual absolutely fascinating data here. Comparing to other modes of transport, if you happen to ever be in a room with around 100 people in it, you can be reasonably assured that at least one of you in that room is going to die in a car accident. But you’d need to be in a room full of around a quarter of a million people before it would be likely that one of you would die in a commercial aviation accident.

Granted, this isn’t an apples to apples comparison as more people drive every day than fly. But even when looking at the mile for mile data, large plane commercial aviation dominates and it’s not even close. For example, according to data compiled by Ian Savage at Northwestern University, from 2000 to 2009, cars had a death rate of about 7.28 people per billion miles. Ferries were at 3.17 deaths per billion miles, Trains at 0.43. Subways at 0.24. Buses ata shockingly safe 0.11. And commercial passenger planes with the lowest rate of 0.07, or a little over 100 times less likely to die in these planes vs a car mile for mile.

And then there is motorcycles… Going back to the car data at 7.28 deaths per billion miles as the worst mentioned so far… Well, motorcyclists were at 212.57, or about 3 thousand times more likely to die riding a motorcycle each mile than in a passenger plane mile for mile.

To put it yet another way talking just crashes, not deaths, and in more realistic timelines for a typical person, for every 1 million miles you travel (a ballpark amount commonly driven by a person in their lifetime in America) in your car in the United States, you can expect to be involved in 4.5 crashes. How many drives this is will vary considerably and nobody really has this data that we could find. BUT, in order to have a likelihood of being involved in the same number of crashes in commercial aviation in the United States, you would need to take about a half a million flights.

To attempt to make this slightly more apples to apples on this one, if you drive roughly 15,000 miles per year in the U.S. starting at age 16, you’ll make it to about 83 years old before you’ll cross 1 million miles driven and those probable 4.5 accidents. To reach that same number of accidents aboard a commercial plane, you’d need to take 1 flight every single day for 1,174 years.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “But most car accidents don’t result in deaths, but don’t most people die in plane accidents?” And the answer is no, not even close. In fact, most people involved in a typical commercial aviation accident not only survive, but are generally uninjured, with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board noting from 2001 to 2017 on this one, 98.2% of people survived commercial aviation accidents during that span with minor or no injuries, 0.6% were seriously injured by survived, and 1.3% died. Over in Europe, the European Transport Safety Council puts it at about 90% survivability there. The slight discrepancy here may be in that short hop, slightly smaller commercial planes (under 60 passengers) tend to have worse safety records than their larger counterparts, though still insanely good, and Europe as a whole has lot more of these type of relatively short short hop flights than the U.S. where there is a whole lot of nothing and vast distances between many cities. Or it could just be that the obscene safety ratings we have in Europe and the U.S. in the last couple decades are so good that even just a few particularly brutal accidents can skew the numbers markedly despite the countless millions of flights in that span.

As to this miniscule number of accidents and comparing it to cars, from 2015-2020 in the U.S. there were 62 million car accidents, resulting in just shy of 15 million injuries. In that exact same span in commercial passenger aviation there were only 176 accidents in the U.S., resulting in a mere 111 injuries. As noted, the U.S. is also currently maintaining a rather extreme streak since 2009 of only 1 single death aboard a U.S. operated commercial passenger jet in the United States. Again, we’ll get into that bizarre story in a bit.

For further illustration, according to the International Air Transport Association, based on 2022 flight fatality data they collected, you could take a flight every day for a whopping 25,214 years before you’d be 100% likely to die in a commercial passenger plane crash sometime in that span. And they further note that 2022 wasn’t even a good year here as the data was skewed all by just one accident in China that killed 132 of the 158 people killed that year in such accidents in their dataset which comprised about half the flights in the world that year.

How to Not Die in an Aviation Accident- Safest Seat on the Plane

Of course, obscenely unlikely is one thing. But as noted in the data there, if you fly every day for 260 years you’re statistically likely to get into 1 accident. And you don’t want to end up being one of the 0.6% of people in those accidents seriously injured or one of the 1.3% in such accidents who get to no longer ever worry about anything else again…

So, what seat should you sit in to be the safest and what other ways can you ensure the way you die is not in an instant and then eternal peace, and instead a steady, slow decline as age, disease, and watching your friends and loved ones pass over many years gradually strips you of your humanity and will to live until you beg for something like a catastrophic airliner accident to occur so you can finally have the inevitable sweet, merciful release of eternal sleep…

For starters- let’s look at the safest seat on a commercial airplane. As if it matters. Nothing matters, we’re all going to die anyway. But let’s look at the data on the safest seat anyway to help distract us from our pointless human lives which is, of course, one of the purposes of this channel for both you and our basement dwelling authors.

First, before jumping into the wider statistics, we want to talk about a crazy experiment where a group of scientists intentionally crashed a Boeing 727 full of crash test dummies, cameras, and sensors in order to study in a real world scenario, rather than computer simulated as is typical, various facets of passenger safety.

Initially attempting to perform the experiment in the U.S., the FAA noped out of this owing to the risk of the now unpiloted jet accidentally going along its merry way and killing someone on the ground or otherwise doing damage, something the FAA is firmly against… Apparently Trevor Jacob didn’t get this memo.

But Mexican authorities instead were like, “Don’t mind if I do!”… or wait wait wait, let me try that again. “Por favor y gracias!” and allowed it near the city of Mexicali on April 27, of 2012. They did, however, require that real pilots be on board, instead of having the whole thing be automated and remote controlled as was the initial plan. As the pilots apparently wanted to continue to live for some reason, they were given parachutes so that they could die sometime later in a meaningless way, instead of giving their lives FOR SCIENCE! In particular, three minutes before the crash, the two pilots and one engineer abandoned ship instead of going down with it as every good captain should. From here, the plane was controlled remotely, making this airplane unequivocally tied for the coolest remote control airplane in history.

As for what the data revealed about the safest place to sit, they found, unsurprisingly, that those sitting closer to the front of the plane had the highest risk of injury or death. Those in the middle were, well, in the middle of likelihood of injury or death. And those in the back would have likely mostly been fine in their crash. (We’ll dive into much more detail on the specific safest seat in a bit when looking at a larger accident safety set.)

They also found that the crash test dummies placed in the typically recommended brace position would have had fewer head and spinal cord injuries, although interestingly more chance of breaking their legs than those who did not.

Noteworthy this wasn’t actually the only time this sort of thing had been done, just the most advanced such test given modern technologies. Another similar one was conducted on December 1, 1984 by NASA and the FAA, who intentionally crashed a Boeing 720 in the Mojave Desert. In this one, they were testing seatbelt setups, cabin structural integrity, as well as the effectiveness of the FM-9 fuel additive that would reduce misting of the fuel in an accident, to see if it would help in post-crash fires.

This plane was fully remote controlled for the duration and was made to descend at a 3.8 degree glideslope, relatively typical for a real world crash, though with gear kept retracted. After the crash, the most important bit of data collected was that although about 25% of the passengers, rearward more likely, would have survived the crash based on bodily injury, given the amount of smoke, it was speculated that all aboard would have probably died before being able to get out because of this. As a result, the FAA began putting extra effort into reducing fires and such smoke via increased use of flame retardant materials. They also began requiring aisle lighting to be mechanically attached to the flooring, not just attached via adhesives.

Ok, so smoke is a major problem, and the back seats were the safest in these. What about a broader sample set to try to fine tune things a bit more?

Enter a report by Popular Mechanics done in 2007 looking at accidents from 1971 on up to that point where someone had died but others had lived. As to why this specific dataset restriction, they were in essence wanting to know in severe accidents where people died but it was in fact possible to survive, who continued their mundane and pointless existences afterwards, and where were they sitting? In this one, they found those in first or business class had a 49% survival rate. Those in the middle 1/3 of the plane at about a 56% survival rate. And those in the rear of the plane at about a 69% survival rate…. Nice…

Although interestingly, they found in their report that those with the highest fatality rates of all were actually those in the few rows in the absolute middle of the plane. This is hypothesized to be because of the wings filled with fuel. Or could have just been an aberration of the specific accidents looked at here given that in that entire 36 year span they could only find 20 accidents that fit the criteria.

Yet another analysis was compiled by TIME in 2015, who no doubt wanted all the clicks Popular Mechanics had gotten 8 years before, they looked at the previous three and a half decades of commercial aviation accident data in the United States, again looking at accidents that included both survivors and fatalities, in this case a sample size of 17 such accidents in their dataset. Much like Popular Mechanics, they also found the closer you are to the front of the plane, the more likely you are to die in such an accident. However, in their dataset things didn’t contrast quite so starkly as in Popular Mechanic’s report, with those in the front 1/3 of the plane being 38% likely to die, those in the middle 1/3 of the plane at 39%, and those in the rear 1/3 of the plane at 32%.

Diving into some of the nuance in all of this, those in the middle seats of a given row at any portion of the plane were safest of all, and, going along with the idea that the rear of the plane is safest, unsurprisingly the middle seats in the back performed best of all here, with just a 28% fatality rate, compared to, for example, the aisle seats in the middle of the planes at 44%. As to why, we can only assume having those sweet, soft bodies who have eaten way too much KFC in their lifetime as a buffer between you and the wall and you and all the stuff in the cabin functions like human airbags. Which, if you go check out our Higher Learning channel’s video linked below “What’s the Best Way to Survive Jumping Out of a Plane With No Parachute”, you’ll find even in this extreme scenario, you don’t actually need that many KFC lover’s between you and the ground to survive. And should you want to give your life for your children for some weird reason… I mean, you can literally make more kids people… putting your body between them and the ground actually gives them a surprisingly good chance of surviving. But kills off all the potential future babies you could have made. So selfish of your current human parasite.

Going back to seat positions, there are outliers in all of this, and, for example in one crash in 1977, the infamous Tenerife disaster, the vast majority of the 61 survivors out of a total of 644 people involved were seated near the front of one of the planes involved, ensuring the wealthy continue to keep on keeping on as it should be, instead of their plebeian brethren in the dust where they belong.

But to sum up here, the statistically safest seat to sit on in a plane is the middle seat of the very back row. As to why, this generally just seems to come down to the entire front of the plane and all the meat sacks in it provide a nice buffer between you and whatever the plane crashes against. Further, being in the back, there are fewer things to fly forward and hit you. Also, if you’re in the very rear of the plane, there’s generally an emergency exit right behind you, which is arguably one of the biggest factors in surviving a plane crash according to one 2008 study performed by the University of Greenwhich, which noted that being within 5 rows of an exit was statistically the safest place on the plane. Although, as noted, the mid-plane exit is not quite as safe as the others, again presumably owing to being right next to the wing with all its fuel and potentially burning engines, flying debris, and the like.

In fact, it was just such flying debris that resulted in the death of the individual who has the dubious distinction of being the only person killed aboard a U.S. based commercial jet passenger plane in the last 15 years. On this, while many sources claim the number is still zero since 2009 owing to it technically not being a crash, we feel it still qualifies given the event that caused it. The flight in question was Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 in 2018, in which an uncontained engine failure resulted in flying debris that damaged the fuselage and wing. This, in turn, resulted in explosive decompression in the cabin. Of the 149 aboard, 8 passengers were injured, and 1 ultimately died from her injuries sustained when partially ejected from the airplane, though she was pulled back in by passengers and flight attendants. And that’s it since 2009 for U.S. based passenger jet airliners since then. 1 single death. 15 years. Close to 200 million flights.

Of course, the back row isn’t all good. While you will have both a higher likelihood of surviving a crash and less likely to have people around you, with the back of the plane typically the most sparsely populated, in many planes the only non-emergency exit is up front, so you’ll have to wait a lot longer to get off the plane. Further, you’ll get jostled around a lot more by turbulence than, say, if near the middle of the plane, potentially reducing airsickness by picking that location.

Further, going back to safety, for whatever it’s worth, the air in the cabin which is recycled every few minutes or so also typically exits out of the back of the plane. So technically those in the very front of the plane might be slightly safer from coughing germs and the like given the general rearward flow of air helping to ensure the air they were putting in their body might go into yours as well if you sit in the back…

Though of course this one is probably negligible over all given the way fresh air is distributed, and the reality of it all from a practical standpoint. But we’re already splitting hairs here about the likelihood of dying in a plane crash anyway, pandering to extreme irrational fears of flying, so we thought we’d throw the germaphobes among us an irrational bone to chew on as well.

Plus, you are vastly more likely to die of things like the flu you got on that plane than a plane crash. So we thought remiss not to at least bring up getting sick from other passengers as one of the real dangers of commercial flight, even if miniscule. Either way, as ever once again showing why you should never leave your house. There are literally people out there. And don’t even get us started on the sun and its quest to kill us all.

On that note, one study done at Emory University in 2018 looking at transmission of various infections aboard commercial airlines found that those in the aisle seats had an average of 64 potential contact moments, vs those in the middle seat at 58, vs the window seats at 12. As to why, they noted that by sitting next to the window you are as far as possible away from passengers and crew walking up and down the aisle, with each extra bit of distance away from other passengers massively decreasing the likelihood of getting sick from one of those humans.

Of course, there is something a lot more deadly than a common cold, and more likely than a plane crash to contend with when flying, and that’s Venous thromboembolism (VTE), or also sometimes known as “Economy Class Syndrome”, in which a blood clot can form in your veins from sitting unmoving for extended periods, and exacerbated somewhat by the ultra dry air up high dehydrating you insanely quickly (which is in part why airlines push so many beverages on you). While it’s notoriously difficult to track how common VTE is as a result of flights given symptoms of it may not show up for quite some time after, in one aptly named study, Venous Thromboembolism Prophylaxis on Flights, done in 2018, it indicated that somewhere in the realm of 1 passenger for every 4,500 flights will develop symptoms from this within 8 weeks following a long-haul flight, and that the increase in risk factor of such flights is about 2.8 times the normal populace.

Coming back to which seat you should pick to maximize odds of not dying, as you might expect from the moniker “economy class syndrome”, those with more leg room and ability to get up and stretch seem to have far fewer instances of this. Unsurprisingly from this, you are twice as likely to develop VTE if you have a window seat than an aisle seat. This is generally thought to be because aisle seat individuals by necessity have to stand up more than those who have window seats. This is not just for themselves but because they often have to stand up to let other people in and out of the aisle because, like a toddler, those selfish individuals didn’t think to use the restroom before the flight. An aisle seat passenger is also able to occasionally stretch their legs into the aisle and try to trip people for something to do during the flight, whereas many window seat passengers cannot easily stretch their legs much, or even at all, unless a member of the ruling class up front.

That said, with a window seat, you get to enjoy a view that only the last few generations of humans have been able to experience, with, throughout the few hundred thousand years before, humans having to envy the birds and Grabthar and his lizard people as they soared through the sky, while the lesser form of life in humans toiled away building their pyramids for them.

So, pros and cons of all of these factors in seat position with regards to safety in flight. But in the general case, sitting in the back is going to be better if you do get in an accident. And if the plane isn’t full, the whole VTE issue may not be, as quite often the back is relatively empty, allowing you all the benefits of a window seat, but still able to stretch out and get up and down as you please, as well as avoid repulsive human contact and, the worst thing of all, potentially having to speak with another human.

That said, a major negative about sitting in the back that is generally kept quiet by the authorities is it puts you behind the point of the plane where the mind controlling chemtrails are distributed, with, of course, the distribution being an integral part of all pilot training going back to one of the first ever known mentions of chemtrails in October of 1918 by one Captain Ward Wells,

“Our attention was first drawn to the sky by the sudden appearance of several strange and startling clouds- long, graceful, looping ribbons of white. These were tapering to a point at one end, and at the other, where they dissolved into nothingness, 60 degrees across the sky, were about as broad as the width of a finger held arm’s distance from the eye… One close observation we noticed some distance ahead of each cloud point the tiny speck of a chase plane. Apparently the churning of the air was all that was needed to upset the delicately balanced meteorological conditions and precipitate this strange cloud formation…. I had seen ships leave their tracks in the clouds, similar to those of little sea animals in the wet sands at the shore, but never before had I seen a plane writing in white upon the blue slate of the sky!”

Of course, also part of the training even back then, as observed in Captain Wells’ explanation, is apologetics to explain away what the pilots are all doing here in helping to prepare human minds for the coming Mak’tarian invasion…

And if you’re wondering here, by Grabthar’s hammer, these chemtrails, also called contrails by those pushing their so-called science on us all, are either condensation trails resulting from a drop in air pressure that can, in the right conditions, cause the temperature of the air to temporarily drop below the dew point around certain parts of the plane; or they are a byproduct of burning jet fuel, introducing water to said air that also, once it cools down a bit, condenses around nucleation sites, and at high altitudes often ultimately freezes. This is not totally dissimilar to breathing out through your mouth when it’s freezing out and the vapor cloud that temporarily forms there…

Or it’s mind controlling chemicals. Don’t even worry about it…

As an interesting brief aside on this, if you notice that contrails above you form and then dissipate quickly, you can likely expect a continuation of clear weather that day, whereas if the contrails stick around for a long time and are seen to expand greatly in the interim, this means the air in high altitude is likely very humid, increasing chances that you may have clouds, rain or storms on the horizon.

…Or it’s Grabthar and Bill Gates teaming up to make sure we all continue to use Microsoft Windows or something. We’re on to you Billy-boy. And as for Grabthar, I mean, why on this amazingly resource and potential labor filled Earth would we want to resist such an invasion from clearly superior beings?!?!? There is peace in subservience, where all choices are taken away and all decisions decided for us. Much like with the sweet embrace of death, which Grabthar also frequently grants his subjects, in subservience to him, the outside world and all its cares and worries no longer exist. Grabthar is kind and generous to all. Come, let us show you the eternal joy that lies in subservience in the basement…

How to Not Die in an Aviation Accident- Other Ways to Survive a Plane Crash

Going back to surviving plane crashes, it turns out there are a number of other things you can do here besides sit with all the cool kids in the back, the number 1 way being by, shocker, paying attention to the safety briefing required at the start of each flight, which most people do not.

In this briefing, they’ll point out things like the position you should get yourself in if the plane might crash (which we’ll get into a rather interesting facet of this in a bit in the Bonus Facts). But in general this brace position is achieved with your head between your knees and hands over the back of your head to protect against things hitting your brain canister from behind. Noteworthy, it is generally recommended you put one hand over the other, rather than interlacing your fingers, in order to also help protect at least one of your hands somewhat as well.

They’ll further go over the locations of the emergency exits. This one, perhaps more than anything else with regards to increasing your chance of surviving a crash, is the thing you want to pay most attention to. Not just noting the location of the exits, but actually taking the time to count the number of rows from you to the one in front and the one behind you. Because in a crash, the cabin can become filled with quite deadly and visibility obscuring smoke, among other hazards of staying aboard. Thus, in general, if you survived the initial crash, the best way to survive after is to get off the plane as fast as possible before you extremely rapidly succumb to the fumes. And that means finding the closest exit as fast as possible when you may not be able to see much of anything- hence why memorizing the number of rows to an exit is also recommended so you can count them as you crawl long.

The importance of getting off the plane as fast as possible is also why regulatory bodies like the FAA require that every plane be able to be evacuated fully within 90 seconds. This is somewhat of an arbitrary number and, as we’ll get to in the fascinating details in the Bonus Facts in a bit, it is unlikely that in a real world crash it’s actually possible to evacuate people in this time frame in many cases.

Going back to the safety briefing, it turns out every item in it is there for a reason… Shocking, I know. And that includes how to use the emergency oxygen masks, and telling you to be sure and give it a tug (or it won’t work) and to put yours on first, even before your kids. This is owing to the fact that at high altitudes like a typical cruise of 35,000 feet, you’ll only have about 15-60 seconds of useful consciousness to get the mask on before you go all loopy and then pass out. Once your mask is on, you can then safely get your kids’ masks on, even if they’ve already passed out. But do you really want to rely on your kids pulling their eyes away from their cell phones long enough to get your mask on, especially if they are aware of your rather lucrative life insurance plan? I didn’t think so. And, hey, as an added bonus of this order of things of you first, if your kids do pass out, at least they’ll shut up for once.

Speaking of those masks, as an interesting brief aside, it turns out they aren’t hooked up to any central oxygen tank or anything, but, rather, when you tug the device, it triggers a spring-loaded mechanism that sets off an explosive charge. This triggers a mixture of lead styphnate and tetracene to generate the needed heat to produce a chemical reaction that produces oxygen for your mask. (This is why they tell you to tug on the mask to get the oxygen flowing- you’ve got to set off the explosive charge to get the whole thing working.)

That’s right. What you breathe through the mask didn’t begin as pure oxygen. Rather, the plane is equipped with numerous small chemical oxygen generators (also known as “oxygen candles,” about the size of a small package of tennis balls) which contain a mixture of mostly sodium chlorate (NaClO3), less than 5% barium peroxide (BaO2) and less than 1% potassium perchlorate (KClO4). When these chemicals are heated by the lead styphnate and tetracene, each undergoes a reaction that ultimately results in a fair bit of filtered, life sustaining oxygen running through the tube to you.

Of course, you might also smell a faint burning odor, but this is nothing to be alarmed about; it just assures you that the system is working. In fact, if the plane is actually on fire, the masks usually won’t deploy, so as not to make the fire worse with the extra oxygen. You may pass out in this case. But rest assured, if the plane is on fire, the pilots will immediately execute whatever procedure for that particular aircraft that gets it down on the ground as fast as physically possible without ripping the wings off. Fire in planes is no bueno. And it is unlikely you’ll actually die in the interim of getting to a safe, breathable altitude, even if starting at 35,000 feet.

Going back to airline accident safety, a couple things usually not mentioned in the safety briefing, but also generally recommended, are to keep your shoes on during the most dangerous parts of flight in takeoff and landing, avoid wearing baggy clothing, and in particular polyester or nylon and other such synthetic fibers that would like nothing better than to burn and melt against your skin while they do it. Avoid anything sharp in your pockets, etc. etc.

But in the end, given the extreme safety of commercial airline travel, many would argue that the rational thing is not to worry about any of this really, outside of paying attention to the safety briefing. The back, middle seat may be the safest, but the likelihood of this mattering at all on any given flight is so small that it would be irrational to prioritize this over sitting in the front of the plane sipping champagne with all the other of the ruling class, leaving the plebeians their pitiful sense of security in their cramped rear seats.

On this note, given how insanely safe flying is. If you’re wondering the absolute best way to get over your fears here and just enjoy the ride. Beyond just studying all about the safety aspects of flight and what the pilots are doing and all of it, as well as flying frequently, arguably the greatest thing you can do, if you have the means, which combines both of these things in a more extreme environment, is go take some flight instruction at your local flight school. Even if you have no intention of becoming a pilot, it doesn’t take that many lessons of training with you flying the plane before your fear of flying will disappear completely, especially aboard the bastions of safety that are large commercial planes. And, hey, you’ll get some fun experiences out of it too. And if you happen to follow through to getting a pilot’s license, you, too, can now join boat lovers in chronically seeing your bank account hovering near 0 because of your newfound hobby. But you only live once. Might as well enjoy the ride until you inevitably cease to exist and all memory or record of you is forgotten in a rather rapid timespan.

Bonus Facts:

How the Engines Provide the Oxygen You’re Breathing

In most modern airliners (the Boeing 787 Dreamliner notwithstanding), outside air is “bled off” from the compressor stage of the turbine engines and eventually piped into the passenger areas. However, a bit of processing is needed first as the compressed air is extremely hot (on the order of nearly 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 200 degrees Celsius) at this stage. Thus, before it enters the passenger compartment, it is first allowed to expand and is run through a heat exchanger and air cycle system to cool it off sufficiently. This system also can work as a heater, with some of the hot air mixed in with the cooled air to regulate cabin temperature. Engineers are just the best.

Once cooled and filtered, the pressurized air, which now has sufficient oxygen density to keep people happily conscious, is piped into the cabin area, usually at levels around 12 psi (about equivalent to atmospheric pressure at 7,000 feet). Why 12 psi instead of something like sea-level pressures of about 14.7 psi? 12 psi is sufficient for the majority of passengers while simultaneously reducing the structural strain on the aircraft itself over something like sea level atmospheric pressures.

As for the air already in the cabin, this is vented out through an outflow valve (or multiple valves in larger aircraft), usually located near the rear of the plane. (Fun Note: Before smoking was banned on commercial aircraft, the area around this outflow valve was generally stained dark brown from tobacco smoke.)

This outflow valve opens and closes automatically to maintain a steady pressure inside the cabin, while the entire system is ensuring that fresh air is continually being piped into and eventually blown out of the aircraft. In fact, while many complain of airplanes seeming “stuffy,” this system ensures that all the air in the aircraft is being completely replaced on average every 2-3 minutes. Yes, that means that your car, house or office is likely significantly more “stuffy” than a commercial airplane flying at 35,000 feet.

First Ever Person Killed in a Plane Crash

While one’s definition of a plane and what was the first one varies based on people who don’t know what they’re talking about, the Wright brothers are generally given credit here owing to the fact that their craft was not only powered and capable of carrying a person, but it was also fully controllable, and the three-axis system they developed to achieve this is not too dissimilar to the way planes are controlled today, along with a slew of other features later adopted from their design, separating their craft from those of antiquity that didn’t change the world.

This brings us to the first person ever killed in a plane crash, or at least a plane as we think of it. This was one Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, who was flying with Wilbur Wright on September 17, 1908 in front of a cheering crowd of over 2,000 people. After a few laps around the gathered masses, a mechanical failure resulted in a subsequent propeller break, which then cut a wire bracing the vertical rudder. This all, in turn, caused the plane to pitch straight to the ground. Wilbur did slightly recover control before hitting the ground, but not enough, and Selfridge and himself were thrown from the wreckage. Wilbur survived the incident, but Selfridge’s head struck a piece of the wood framing as he was thrown from the craft, cracking his skull. He later died in the hospital. It is generally thought that had he been wearing a helmet, he likely would have survived the crash as the rest of his injuries, while non-trivial, were not considered life-threatening. It was partially because of Lieutenant Selfridge’s death and how he died that, when the army started sending pilots up in planes, they required that they wear thick headgear for protection.

Human Sardines:

Going back to crash position, it turns out the same reason your seat won’t necessarily line up with the window on a given plane has resulted in many no longer being able to execute the recommended crash position- namely, airlines cramming many more seats than the original designers recommended into their planes, which is a rather easy thing to do because the seats are simply sitting on tracks and easily set in a variety of row arrangements, as well as the distance between rows being flexible.

Towards this end, only a few decades ago the average pitch between seats on commercial aircraft was 34 inches (86.3 cm), but today has diminished to just 31 inches (78.7 cm), with even 28 inch (71 cm) pitch seats now relatively common. Airlines are not only shrinking the pitch between seats, but also in some cases the width, despite the general populace’ ever expanding girth. For instance, while 18 inches (45.7 cm) or more was once the norm for economy class (18.5 inches still being the recommendation by Boeing for economy seats on the 777), rows as narrow as 16.7 inches (42.4 cm) are not unheard of today. If narrowed enough on certain planes, this allows for an extra seat in each row. For example, the Airbus A330 was designed to have eight seats in a row, but it’s not uncommon for airlines to use thinner than the recommended width of seats to accommodate nine seats in a row on this aircraft.

And if you were wondering, according to Cynthia Corbett of the FAA, there is no set rule for how many passengers and seats can be crammed into commercial aircraft, and the exit rows are even allowed to have the seats block the exit by up to 50%. The only caveat is, as previously noted, that the FAA requires all commercial aircraft be able to be fully evacuated in less than 90 seconds with half the exits blocked. This must be demonstrated by manufacturers in both computer simulated and live tests.

While no regulatory body is much concerned with the windows lining up with the seats on commercial aircraft, numerous consumer issues concerning the current state of airline travel in the United States did spark the formation of the Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection in 2012. In 2015, they specifically began looking in-depth at airlines cramming more and more people into flights, and in the process uncovered many safety issues that this results in.

To begin with, the aforementioned recommended crash position that has been proven to minimize injury and death in the event of an airplane crash is to bend forward with, essentially, your head in your lap. The problem is that with the ever-diminishing pitch (particularly in extreme cases like 28″ pitch), more and more people cannot physically assume this position given how close the seat in front of them is, or at least without putting their head and neck in a very precarious position. This is compounded by the fact that new “slimline” seats, with hard, rather than padded, backs (allowing for the saving of a couple inches per seat to be able to accommodate more rows of seats) have been introduced. So in the event of a crash, not only can those of the taller persuasion not necessarily assume the crash position, they are at risk that they’ll smack their head against a hard seat-back in front of them in these types of emergency situations.

Another issue, addressed by Dr. Nimia L Reyes during the Aviation Consumer Protection meetings, is the aforementioned potentially life threatening venous thrombosis. With less space for an individual to move their legs, in flights over four hours long, studies have shown a significant increase in instances of this condition in recent years. Two of the primary risk factors here are duration of the flight and height of the individual- essentially the longer you sit and the more tightly packed you are, the more likely you are to develop this condition.

Government Affairs Association of Professional Flight Attendants representative Julie Frederick also noted while addressing the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection that the present high-density passenger seating has led to a rapid rise in “air rage” incidents, which are generally centered around personal space issues. Most notable among the triggers for these incidents is a passenger leaning their seat back, resulting in approximately 3/4 of all reported air-rage incidents today. Due to the decreasing pitch, there often simply isn’t any room to lean back without ramming your seat into the knees of the person behind you. (In the case of individuals over 6 feet tall (1.83 m), their knees may already be pressed up against the upright seats with no room whatsoever for the person in front to recline.) This inevitably results in no doubt Seinfeld-esk arguments over who has the right to those few inches of space.

90 Seconds

As previously mentioned, there is a requirement that all planes must be able to be evacuated in under 90 seconds, including demonstrating this in computer simulations and live test. However, there is significant controversy over these tests. While the testers do many things to simulate a real crash evacuation, the live testing scenarios can never actually accurately simulate real world crash situations owing to safety concerns for the test subjects. Nevertheless, the testers do try via- randomly blocking half the exits (not even the flight attendants know which will be blocked in a given test); restricting visibility by using emergency lighting only; using humans of all ages in the tests; including dummy infants for some people to carry; and randomly placing luggage around the cabin and aisle(s).

Of course, even with all this, the passengers all know they are there for evacuation testing, so actually pay attention to the normal evacuation instructions (something real-world passengers almost never do); they are calm and think rationally; there is no smoke or any such visual or breathing impairments; no one is injured; they are not trying to get to their children, perhaps in another row, away from the closest exit before evacuating; and they must pass a physical fitness test before being allowed to be a test passenger so don’t accurately represent the general public.

Unsurprisingly from this, a 2013 Canadian Safety Board study determined that in real world evacuations, the 90 second evacuation time is rarely met, even though many planes don’t fly full and accidents don’t necessarily block or disable half the exits.

While this is a concern, Corbett noted that 90 seconds is not some magic safety number. It’s just a relatively low number to make sure manufacturers at least put some effort into making sure passengers can exit a plane quickly in the event of an emergency. Specifically, the time was set somewhat arbitrarily based on one primary factors- fire. The flash burn fire event time on a typical aircraft when the rule was instituted was about 120 seconds. Further, as previously alluded to, if you happen to survive a significant plane crash, by far the most dangerous thing to you in most cases is smoke inhalation. So getting out to fresh air as rapidly as possible is key to minimizing passenger deaths that occur after a crash.

It should also be noted that, according to Frederick, in her 35 years of experience in the flight attendant industry, it isn’t an accurate assessment to assume people will panic in the event of a crash, even a major one. In fact, she states that in such situations most people actually go into, as she described it, a “space out” mode, which is why flight attendants are trained to shout instructions at passengers to break them out of their trance and get them doing what they are supposed to do. Essentially, in her experience in real world accidents many people’s reaction is to just freeze and not do anything unless they are told. Once again showing humans are naturally subservient and should welcome Grabthar and his glorious rule.

Eternal Sleep:

One more little data point to think about when you’re irrationally fearing flying is that every day you do something far more dangerous… Get into bed. It turns out about 1 in every 2700 people in the United States will die of falling out of bed or off other furniture, or about 1500 people per year, massively eclipsing the death rates in commercial passenger aviation. Of course, just about everybody lays in bed at night, or at least, you humans, not everybody flies in an airplane. But we just wanted to remind everyone that every single time you lay down at night to practice for your eventual eternal sleep, you might actually find that practice turns into the real thing thanks to the countless ways humans’ incredibly fragile warm blooded meat and water sacks can cease to function at any time.

So thanks for watching to the end. If you watched this while falling asleep, maybe even your end… GOODNIGHT EVERYBODY!

Expand for References

What Causes the Smoke Trails Behind Airline Planes High in the Sky?

Why aren’t the Windows Aligned with the Rows of Seats in Commercial Aircraft?











6 Facts About Flying that Will Help You Stay Calm on Your Next Flight

Flying High: The Real Odds of Experiencing a Plane Crash


Aviation and Plane Crash Statistics







Which Is the Safest Seat on an Airplane?







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One comment

  • Two thumbs up to whoever wrote this hilarious black comedy article…Loved It! And my son is a pilot, so some of it was not a surprise…