Amanda Ripley

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The Safest Seat on an Airplane

30th Jun 2008 posted in Disaster Behavior

...is the seat you can get out of the fastest. So the aisle seat near an exit row is slightly safer than other seats on the plane, on average, according to a study out of the University of Greenwich in the UK.

The flurry of recent media attention focused on this particular finding, but the broader implication is that anything you can do to increase your speed of exit (from counting the number of rows to the exit to familiarizing yourself with how to open the exit door) could also boost your odds.

In fact, the study is riddled with provocative findings—including the revelation that people will go to great lengths to stay with their loved ones during a plane evacuation.

So if family members are sitting rows apart, they will try to get to each other. That’s why a lot of computer models of airplane evacuations are so wildly off the mark: they don’t usually take into account the complex dynamics of actual human beings.

What makes this work so valuable is that it is based on the behavior of real people in real planes. Ed Galea, who worked on the study and helped me with the book, looked at thousands of passenger accounts from 105 plane accidents and assessed how regular people perform in the worst of times.