April 23, 2008

Where to Sit to Survive a Plane Crash
Miami Beach, United States

I'm moments away from boarding a flight to Los Angeles, where I'll be spending five fun-filled days laughing and catching up with a pair of old friends from college. Diapers will be replaced with video game controllers, baby formula with Skittles.

Although flying is probably just about as safe a mode of transport as a frequent traveler will find oneself in, I'm reminded of an article I read in Popular Mechanics not too long ago: Safest Seat on a Plane: How to Survive a Crash.

Survival rates for various parts of the passenger cabin, based on an analysis of all commercial jet crashes in the U.S. since 1971

The verdict based on U.S. commercial jet crashes since 1971: That it's safer in the back of the plane.

Although this is an interesting, headline-grabbing claim, my major issue with it is comes from the (tiny) statistical sample size. There are simply too many variables spread across too few incidents to make any kind of founded assertion.

I suggest skimming over the article and jumping to one of the best aspects of the piece: the visitor comments. More than a handful point to the same statistical problems that jumped out at me, while others chime in with personal experiences and tidbits of information. My favorite isn't that interesting remark was this one:

Research has shown that if aircraft manufacturers designed planes with survivability in mind, the seats would face backwards, and they would use flame retardant materials that didn't emit poisonous gas when set aflame. Here's another interesting fact I stumbled on a while ago…The NTSB (or FAA?) changed the recommended crash brace position. The change had absolutely nothing to do with survivability. They did it because the prior position made it much more likely that the jawbones of victims would be destroyed on impact, which greatly hinders positive identification via dental records. Morbid…but true.

Travel safe.

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