July 26, 2007

Safety vs. Status on Airplanes

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 7:53 pm

For those of us that spend much of our work life waiting for and sitting in airplanes, an item of note. Popular Mechanics has looked at the data to see which airline seats are safest:

Where detailed seating charts were available, we also calculated survival rates for various parts of the passenger cabin. Again, the trend was clear: The rear cabin (seats located behind the trailing edge of the wing) had the highest average survival rate at 69 percent. The overwing section had a 56 percent survival rate, as did the coach section ahead of the wing. First/business-class sections (or in all-coach planes, the front 15 percent) had an average survival rate of just 49 percent.

So when the “experts” tell you it doesn’t matter where you sit, have a chuckle and head for the back of the plane.

Of course for frequent travelers, there is a lot of competition for, and cache associated with, seats as far forward as possible. Not only are free first class upgrades awarded based on frequent flyer status, but most airlines reserve seats in the front of coach for their Platinum customers. I don’t know why we all want to sit in the front of coach so badly — the only advantage is being able to get off the plane faster, which is certainly a plus, but not that big of a deal. I suspect for frequent travelers (myself included) it’s a subconscious drive for a visible sign of status, along the lines of “sure, I’m sitting here in coach with all these once-a-year vacation flyers, but I’m not like them — I’ve got an aisle seat in row 8!”

So now am I going to start requesting seats in the back of the plane instead of the front? No. Again from the Popular Mechanics article:

[O]nce your seatbelt is firmly fastened, relax: There’s been just one fatal jet crash in the U.S. in the last five-plus years.

So I’ll indulge my striving for visible signs of my airline status. But if I’m forced to sit in the back of the plane, and the plane crashes, I’ll be laughing my head off for the 10 nanoseconds while I’m still alive and those suckers in the single digit rows are already toast.

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