Traveling comes with its own set of obstacles—rising plane tickets, TSA checkpoints, luggage that just won’t zip closed—and you can’t control any of them. But there is a way to ensure your ride is a little smoother than the process of getting to your seat.
While most experts agree that seat choice simply doesn’t matter that much on a plane, some passengers may find that their ride feels a lot smoother if they sit near the wing. This may be especially true for those who are prone to airsickness. But why is the smoothest ride near the wing? We can thank physics and the wonders of aeronautical engineering.
“The smoothest place to sit is over the wings, nearest to the plane’s centers of lift and gravity,” explained Patrick Smith on the Ask the Pilot site. What that means is that as wind, airflow, torque, and gravity all exert force on the plane as it flies through the sky, the plane “rotates” (in the physics sense of the word) around its center of gravity.
NASA’s Glenn Research Center defines the center of gravity as “the average location of the weight of the aircraft.” While the actual weight of the plane is distributed throughout the airplane, its center of gravity is typically located toward the front of the wing. The wing is also what helps lift the plane (aeronautical engineers call it the “center of lift”). Sitting at the point where both the plane’s lift and center of gravity meet—and forces are pushing both up and down equally on the plane —usually ensures the smoothest ride. Another rule to fly by: Anything over or a bit forward from the wing will be more stable than anything after the wing. Think of it like the center of a see-saw where the person sitting at either end gets a wilder ride than the person standing in the middle waiting for their turn.
It’s much the same way that your weight is distributed throughout your body, and how your center of gravity is located near your core. If someone— ideally a small, non-sticky child—was looking to be carried you would put them on your back for the smoothest ride and not, say, your nose.
If for some reason you’re looking for the bumpiest ride, according to Smith, consider “the far aft—the rearmost rows closest to the tail.”
That said, if a plane hits a pocket of turbulence, the whole plane shakes, and seats over the wing will not be spared from the experience. Planes are designed to provide a smooth ride for everyone on board, regardless of seat and the smoothness of the ride should not vary much between seats in the front and the back of the plane. That said, if you’re sitting near the rear, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get your choice of chicken or beef by the time the meal cart gets to the back of the plane.