Ask the Captain: Which is the safest seat on an airplane?

Plane Talk: Got a question? Ask the Captain!

Do you have a question about airline safety, flight etiquette, jet lag, or air travel in general? Submit your question and look for answers in a future column.

by W. M. Wiggins


When making my seat selection, I've often wondered which is the safest place to sit on a plane? In the first few seats? The emergency exit aisle? What's your recommendation? - Lyn


Hi Lyn, you're not alone in trying to figure this one out. The question might seem like an easy one to answer, but isn't necessarily so. First, there is absolutely no way to know what situation might occur on any given day on any given flight.

For example, take the incident that happened on a Delta Air Lines flight bound for Atlanta from Pensacola in July of 1982. The MD 88 had a catastrophic engine failure on spool up for takeoff. Two jet engines are mounted on the tail of the fuselage, one engine per side.

According to the NTSB Report,  identification : DCA 96MA068...”the airplane experienced an engine failure. Uncontained engine debris from the front hub (fan hub) of the #1 (left) engine penetrated the aft (rear) fuselage. Two passengers were killed and two others were seriously injured.”

In plain English-

The engine on the captain’s side came apart sending the fan blade, now acting like a rip saw, cutting through the rear fuselage. Unfortunately, there were folks sitting in those exact seats. Seats that on any other day would've been perfectly safe.

So, where is the safest part of the airplane?

Well, the flight data recorders are in the (rear) tail section of most aircraft for a good reason. This section usually survives most critical impacts with the sea or terra firma a.k.a. Mother Earth.

Long story short, I generally sit in the rear section of the airplane, aisle seat, but forward of any aft mounted engines. I never trust those suckers...


Answering your questions in our NEW ASK THE CAPTAIN column is, Michael Wiggins, a retired airline pilot who has spent the better part of his life shuttling passengers around the globe. Do you have questions for YourLifeIsATrip's airline pilot? Submit your question and look for answers in a future column.

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