A Pilot Debunks the Myth That First Class Is Safer Than Economy
Sure, it’s nicer to fly first class with its larger seats, free drinks, and attentive service, but is it actually safer to fly in the upgraded cabin?
Short answer: No.
But that simple fact doesn’t stop people like Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, from saying it was “safer” to be in first class. Surely, he was making this excuse to help ease anger over his spending on flights, specifically because the cost of his travel comes out of taxpayers' pockets.
“There have been instances, unfortunately, during my time as administrator, as I’ve flown and spent time, of interaction that’s not been the best,” Pruitt told the Associated Press. “And, so, ingress and egress off the plane ... that’s all decisions all made by our (security) detail team, by the chief of staff, by the administration. I don’t make any of those decisions. They place me on the plane where they think is best from a safety perspective.”
However, according to pilots, experts, and empirical data, the idea that one is either more secure or safer sitting in first class is pure poppycock.
"First class is not safer than economy,” Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III — you know, the pilot who safely landed a plane in the Hudson River — plainly stated to The Washington Post.
"I cannot think of anything [that would make first class safer]” Harro Ranter, chief executive of the Aviation Safety Network, added. “In an actual accident, best chances of survival are usually in the rear."
And Ranter is certainly right about sitting in the back of an aircraft if you want to increase your chances of survival in a crash.
According to a lengthy analysis by TIME, which sifted through the Federal Aviation Administration’s CSRTG Aircraft Accident Database looking for accidents with both fatalities and survivors, the person in the middle seat in the very, very last row of a plane has the best chance at survival.
According to TIME, “the seats in the back third of the aircraft had a 32 percent fatality rate, compared with 39 percent in the middle third and 38 percent in the front third.” Furthermore, aisle seats in the middle of the aircraft had the highest fatality rate at 44 percent, while the middle seats in the back had the lowest fatality rate at 28 percent.
However, there’s one big caveat to this data: The FAA itself notes that there’s no real “safest” seat. In an airplane crash, which by the way is exceedingly rare, survival depends more on the circumstances of the crash, and less on where you’re sitting.
So in the end, class may not actually matter. But, if you’re really, really looking for the safest option you should probably consider only flying on one of these airlines that has never had fatal incident and maybe, for added luck, sit in the back.