There’s no particular reason that airplane seats all face forward like an auditorium.
In fact, it may be counterintuitive. According to some researchers, rear-facing seats could actually be safer.
The science is the same as that of a rear-facing car seat. Several university studies have confirmed that, during an emergency landing, a backwards-facing seat provides more support for the head, neck and back.
However, it’s unlikely that passengers will ever walk into an airplane cabin and see rows of backwards seats. First off, passengers are conditioned to consider forward-facing seats the norm — and standards are difficult to change. It’s been that way since the start of commercial aviation.
But mostly, airlines won’t install backwards seats for reasons of cost. “During an impact, the passenger’s centre of gravity would be higher and the seat would be taking more of the strain – therefore the seat itself, the fittings and the floor of the aircraft would need to be strengthened,” David Learmount, operations and safety editor at FlightGlobal.com told the Telegraph. “That would increase the weight of the aircraft, which would increase fuel consumption.”
But backwards-facing seats aren’t unicorns. They do exist in certain aircraft — you’ll just have to pay a lot more to book one. Premium cabins on British Airways, American Airlines, Etihad and United feature some backwards-facing seats. Some customers love these seats for the added privacy of avoiding eye contact with those coming down the aisle.
And customer perception factors greatly into an airline’s unwillingness to install backwards seats. Many passengers may consider backwards seats a one-way ticket to motion sickness. However, motion sickness doesn’t factor into rear-facing airline seats like it does on buses or trains.
“On a plane, though, there is no real noticeable forward motion once the plane is at cruising altitude,” Brian Dunlap, a pilot, wrote on Quora. The only times passengers may experience backwards motion sickness is taxi, takeoff, and landing.