If Your Plane is Going Down, It’s Better to Sit in the Back

Discovery TV crashed a Boeing 727 in the Sonoran desert to answer the question: where’s the safest place in the plane?


The set-up included a Boeing 727, 38 specialized cameras, over $500,000 worth of crash test dummies, a crew of pilots who bailed out of the plane with parachutes before the crash, and a simple question: where’s the safest place in the plane?

There’s almost nothing you can do to ensure your flight doesn’t crash. But, as Discovery TV found, there might be something you can do to up your chances of survival: sit in the back.

After crashing the 727 into the Sonoran desert, Discovery handed over those crash test dummies to Cindy Bir, a professor at Wayne State, to see who did the worst.

So what did she find? First, those people you walk by in first class (and secretly envy) die instantly. They’re at the front of the plane, so they get more of the impact. As the impact moves back through the plane, it weakens. In this experiment, 78 percent of those sitting in the back of the plane would have survived.

A few years ago Popular Mechanics looked at every commercial jet crash in the U.S. since 1971—twenty in total. They found that in eleven out of those twenty crashes, the rear passengers did much better. In five of them, the front passengers had the advantage, and in three it was a wash.

Your chances of being in a plane crash are small. But next time you’re stuck in the smelly, sweaty rear of the plane, just reassure yourself that there’s at least one advantage.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Perils of Bird-Plane Collisions
Crash Junkie