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Travel Talk

Travel Talk: A few ways to increase your chances in surviving a plane crash

I admit it . . . as much as I love to fly, the recent Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco has me a bit unnerved and thinking about airline safety. I know I don’t have any control over factors such as weather, pilot preparedness or even sometimes seat selection, but are there other ways I can increase my chances of surviving a crash?

Seat Selection: The NTSB and others have collected tons of data over the years on where the “safest” seats on the plane are. Generally, passengers seated in the rear of the plane have a better chance of surviving a crash.

This is presumably because jets have the glide path of a brick – they go straight down, nose first. That being said, this wasn’t true for the Asiana crash. So when you have a choice, where should you book seats? The vast majority of crashes (upward of 95 percent) are survivable, which is to say that some, if not all, passengers survive the crash. Being one of the survivors most often depends on getting out quickly (think jet fuel, explosions and fire), so pick a seat within five rows of an exit if you can. If you can’t, make sure at least one of your party has an aisle seat – perhaps the dad if you’re a family. He can lead the way out and make sure that no one has to leap over strangers.

Most booking websites allow seat selection (though sometimes you pay a fee for it), so it behooves you to be familiar with the type of aircraft you’ll be flying on and its seating configuration. Any doubts, just visit for detailed information on just about every type of plane. Bud and I always book opposite aisles and get the exit aisle whenever possible.

Exit strategy: The first thing you should do when you step on a plane is figure out exactly how you are going to get out. Pay attention to the flight attendants when they point out the exits and the location of flotation devices (put your hand on the device just to be sure). Read the card in the seat pocket that shows the seat layout and exits.

Look in front of you. Look in back. Count the number of rows to the nearest door in case there is limited visibility. You should be hyper-aware of your surroundings and stay aware – don’t sleep through take-offs and landings, when most crashes occur. Though you’ll no doubt be making a quick exit to catch a connection or beat the crowd, your strategy just might end up being a life-saver.

Awareness and mobility: Conventional wisdom says you’ll have about 90 seconds to get out of a plane that has crashed before fire or smoke cause problems. This means you’ll need to be conscious and mobile, protecting your head, neck and legs. Think seat belt first. I am amazed at how few people keep their seat belts buckled in flight. Seat belts are vital not only in a crash, but also in case of unexpected turbulence. Just think of a plane dropping suddenly and your head/neck slamming into the bottom of the overhead luggage bins. Not good. So keep your seat belt buckled low and tight. Last, learn (and practice) the brace position. Keep your knees tight to the seat and fold your feet as far under the seat as you can – this can save your legs from being broken. Tuck your head down and forward and protect it with your hands and elbows, essentially compressing into a ball.

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