How to Survive a Plane Crash

People generally believe that no one survives a plane crash. But according to government data, 95.7% of the passengers involved in airplane crashes categorized as accidents actually survive. Then, if you look at the most serious plane crashes, that’s a smaller number; the survival rate in the most serious kinds of accidents is 76.6%. So the point there is, when the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] analyzed all the airplane accidents between 1983 and 2000, 53,000 people were involved in those accidents, and 51,000 survived. That’s an incredibly high survival rate.

The Five Row Rule.
When a professor in England, Ed Galea, analyzed the seating charts of more than 100 plane crashes and interviewed 1,900 survivors and 155 cabin-crew members, he discovered that survivors usually move an average of five rows before they can get off a burning aircraft. That’s the cutoff. In his view — and he’s done a lot of statistical analysis — the people who are most likely to survive a plane crash are people who are sitting right next to the exit row or one row away. Not a particular exit row but any exit row. That’s the person most likely to survive. Beyond a five-row cutoff from the exit, your chances, in his view, are greatly reduced. So the first thing you should consider when getting on a plane and when making flight plans is, “Where am I sitting?”

Also pay careful attention to the safety card and the safety briefing, because every plane is different. That information is part of developing a plan, and because plane crashes are survivable. You should know where the exits are, what the equipment is. You should know what’s under your seat. Actually reach under the seat with your hands and touch to make sure that your life jacket is there. So the safety briefings are very important. The FAA has done research on safety briefings, and they find that the least informed people, those that don’t pay attention to the safety briefings, are frequent fliers. They think they know all about flying and all about planes, so they get on a flight and pick up their Wall Street Journal and start e-mailing on their BlackBerrys.

I do not take my shoes off. I leave them on in the event that I need to run through a burning plane. I wear lace-up shoes. In the event of an impact, people’s shoes have been known to fly off them, particularly flip-flops and other “convenient” shoes. Typically, people have a couple of pops at the bar, put on earphones; they put on blindfolds, they take off their shoes, and they go to sleep. But research has shown that the first three minutes of a plane flight and the last eight — this is called the rule of plus three/minus eight — are when about 80% of airplane accidents take place. In that time, you should not be blindfolded; you should not be drunk or have earphones on. You should really be paying attention, because you actually can survive a plane crash.

REALITY: It’s Safer In the Back!
A look at real-world crash stats suggests that the farther back you sit, the better your odds of survival. Passengers near the tail of a plane are about 40 percent more likely to survive a crash than those in the first few rows up front.