How to Survive a Plane Crash: 10 Tips That Could Save Your Life

The chances are slim if you have never experienced a plane crash, but that does not mean it is impossible. The average fatal accident rate per 100 million passengers is one in 3,333. But there are ways to increase your odds of survival and some experts say these techniques can even allow you to enjoy the experience rather than dreading it.,

The “is dying in a plane crash painful?” is a question that comes up frequently. The answer is yes, but there are ways to make it less painful.


We’ve chosen to reprint a vintage essay each Sunday to assist our younger readers discover some of the greatest, evergreen jewels from the past, with our archives currently totaling over 3,500 items. This piece was first published in July of 2013. 

Plane accidents are often seen as catastrophic and unsurvivable disasters. The abiding picture of a plane accident, thanks to movies and 24-hour news networks, generally entails a plane plunging to the earth from 30,000 feet and obliterating everyone on board in a terrible conflagration.

That isn’t the case, thankfully. The National Transportation Safety Board reported that 95.7 percent of airline passengers survived disasters between 1983 and 2000 in a study. Sure, there are occasional incidents in which everyone, or almost everyone, dies, but these are much more uncommon than you would think based on the headlines. Even in major crashes involving fire and extensive damage, the NTSB found that 76.6 percent of passengers survived.

When you consider those figures, as well as the rarity of aviation accidents in the first place (the typical American’s odds of dying in an airplane crash are roughly 1 in 11 million), it’s clear that flying is the safest mode of transportation available. On a typical day, driving on the road is significantly more risky than it seems since you have four (or two) wheels on the ground and a sensation of control.

However, another fascinating detail discovered by the FAA and NTSB in their studies on aviation disasters is this: There were 40 percent of deaths in collisions that might have been avoided. Nearly half of all airline crashes might have been avoided if passengers had taken basic precautions.

While the chances of being in an aircraft accident are small, they are not zero. Would you know what to do if it occurred to you? Would you know how to maximize your chances of escaping? We’re going to provide you research-backed guidance from Ben Sherwood’s The Survivor’s Club on how to survive an aircraft crash in today’s post.

You just have 90 seconds to escape.

This is the most important aspect of survival, and it will set the tone for the rest of the advice in this essay. You have a fair chance of getting out of the aircraft alive if you survived the crash landing. However, you only have 90 seconds to complete the task.

The fire that normally engulfs the jet following a plane crash is what kills the majority of people, not the physical hit. People may be amazed they survived the collision and become oblivious to additional threats as a result. The speed with which a fire may spread and devour an aircraft is often underestimated. According to surveys, most individuals believe they have roughly 30 minutes to escape out of a burning jet. The truth is that a fire burns through the plane’s metal fuselage in 90 seconds on average, consuming everything and everyone within. If it seems frightening, it should; you’ll need to be inspired to get off the aircraft!


Be Fit

The FAA has thoroughly researched and calculated the data on aircraft disaster survivors, as well as evaluated over 2,500 individuals in simulated evacuations to determine the sort of person who is most likely to live. What were the outcomes?

The highest chance of surviving an aircraft accident is for young, slim guys. (Sorry, Aunt Myrtle, but old, obese ladies have the worst chances.)

The FAA discovered that changes in age, gender, and girth account for 31% of the variability in evacuation times between persons. Getting away from an aircraft disaster requires swiftly maneuvering through confined hallways with bags and damage scattered everywhere. It’s possible that you’ll have to push obstacles out of the path. After that, you must squeeze through an emergency escape that may be barely twenty inches wide. It’s difficult to accomplish if you’re overweight and out of shape.

Being out of shape might not only diminish your odds of survival, but it can also endanger the lives of those who must wait for you to depart safely. Many people have died as a result of delays at the exit owing to passengers having difficulty deplaning. Investigators discovered the burned bodies of ten passengers queued up in the aisle waiting to flee the wing exit after a runway crash in 1991; those who froze and had difficulty squeezing through the exit had created a catastrophic bottleneck.

Make it a mission to lose some of that table muscle if you’re on the chubby side so you’ll be fit enough to save your own life and maybe the lives of others (and not just on a plane, either, but in all kinds of survival situations). To get started, you may pick from a variety of exercises on our website. 

If at all possible, fly in larger planes.

If you have the option of traveling in a puddle jumper or a 737, go with the latter. According to FAA studies, bigger aircraft absorb more energy in a crash, which means you’ll be exposed to less fatal force and have a greater chance of surviving. Consider traveling with Southwest, which has a 737-only fleet, and avoid regional airlines if possible; not only are their aircraft smaller, but their accident and incident rates are twice as high as major carriers, and their pilots are often inexperienced and overworked. It’s worth noting that major airlines typically contract out portions of their routes to a smaller carrier.

Keep the Five Row Rule in mind.

Five row rule survive plane crash diagram illustration.

Popular Mechanics published an article a few years ago that looked at every commercial jet disaster in the United States and where the survivors were seated. The author of the paper determined that in the case of a disaster, sitting at the rear of the aircraft was the safest option. Popular Mechanics’ conclusion isn’t adequately backed by professional research, despite the fact that they presented a persuasive argument in that article.

The statistics, according to those who devote their careers to researching aviation disasters, are inconclusive since each plane crash is unique. Many aircraft accidents occur nose-first, which makes the rear of the plane safer, while some occur tail-first or wing-first. You just have no idea what type of accident you’ll be in. Rather than stressing about whether your seat is at the rear, concentrate on getting a seat near an exit. Those who survive an aircraft disaster, according to researcher Ed Galea, only have to shift an average of five seats to get out. After five rows, your chances of making it out alive start to dwindle.


If you need to depart, the ideal seat to have is in the exit row since you’ll be the first one out. If that seat isn’t available, opt for the aisle. You not only have better access to the restroom throughout the trip, but you also have a 64 percent probability of surviving vs the 58 percent chance you’d have if you sat in a window seat. Bulkhead rows should also be avoided. Sure, you have more leg space, but when you connect with the walls in a collision, the walls don’t “give” as much as seats do.

There are exceptions to the Five Row Rule, according to Galea, who has identified persons who have successfully shifted 19 rows to reach an exit. Furthermore, even if you’re just two rows from an escape, there’s always the possibility that it may be obstructed or jammed. Overall, being near five rows of an exit will improve your chances of survival.

With an Action Plan, Overcome the Normalcy Bias

We’re all inherently impacted by the Normalcy Bias, as we covered in depth in our essay on why we’re hardwired for sheepdom. The Normalcy Bias leads us to believe that everything will always be predictable and normal. It takes our brain a long time to absorb things that aren’t typical. Instead of leaping to action when something unexpected occurs, our brain shrugs and rationalizes that what is happening can’t be that horrible since genuinely bad occurrences are so seldom.

Normalcy bias has been proven to be the cause of many avoidable fatalities in aviation disasters, according to investigators. People loiter about after an accident instead of taking prompt action. Many people will begin seeking for their carry-on bags even before they reach the exit.

Normalcy bias was on display in spectacular manner after a plane crash in 1977 that killed 583 people, making it the worst plane crash in history. On the little island of Tenerife, two 747 jumbo planes collided just over the runway (part of the Canary Islands off of Morocco). Following the collision, one of the planes plummeted to the ground and detonated, killing all 248 people on board.

The second plane collided with the ground but did not detonate. The top of the jet was ripped off in the accident, and flames engulfed the plane. Passengers who survived the first crash may have been able to walk away unhurt, but they needed to move quickly. Paul Heck, a 65-year-old passenger aboard the flaming airliner, sprung into action. He slid his seatbelt off, grabbed his wife’s hand, and dashed for the closest exit. They, along with 68 other passengers, were able to escape, while 328 others perished.

Mr. Heck recalled in an interview after the catastrophe that most passengers stayed in their seats and pretended everything was alright, even after crashing with another jet and watching the cabin fill with smoke. Researchers estimate that passengers had just over a minute to flee before being devoured by the flames, and that the survival rate would have been significantly higher if more people had acted quickly rather than sitting in their seats pretending everything was well.


To overcome the normality bias, you must have a strategy in place for what you will do if there is an accident every time you board an aircraft. Understand where the exits are located. Count the number of rows between yourself and the closest exit after you’ve found it. You won’t be confused if it’s late at night or the inside lights go out since you’ll know just where to go. Examine the passengers in your immediate vicinity to discover who could be a possible stumbling block to your getaway. If you’re traveling with children, discuss who will be accountable for which child in the case of an accident with your wife. Mentally prepare yourself to go into action as soon as the jet comes to a halt.

Another reason to develop an action plan is because there’s a strong probability you won’t be getting any help from the flight crew. According to one research, 45 percent of flight attendants in survivable disasters are disabled in some manner. You must be prepared to perform without being directed by anybody.

Read the safety card and pay attention to what the flight attendants are saying.

Man on airplane reading safety card illustration.

Another way to overcome the Normalcy Bias is to read the safety card and pay attention to the flight attendants when they do their pre-flight safety spiel. You’re not exempt just because you’ve accumulated enough frequent flyer points to fly around the world 1,000 times. You may believe you’re confident, but you’re probably complacent; in a survey released a few years ago, the FAA discovered that regular flyers were the least knowledgeable on what to do in the case of an aircraft disaster and were the most subject to the normality bias.

Rereading the safety card will remind you of the closest exits and what to do in the event of a crash landing. Form your action plan as you go through the safety standards.

Keep the Plus 3/Minus 8 Rule in mind.

Man in airplane seat looking at watch survive plane crash illustration.

The first three minutes after takeoff and the final eight minutes before landing are referred to as Plus 3/Minus 8 in the aviation sector. According to aviation accident investigators, this era accounts for over 80% of all plane crashes. Between those intervals, the likelihood of an aircraft accident decreases considerably. As a result, you must be extremely aware and ready to respond during the first 3 minutes after takeoff and the final 8 minutes before landing if you wish to increase your chances of survival. The Survivor’s Club has some advice on what to do and what not to do during Plus 3/Minus 8:

  • Don’t fall asleep.
  • Make sure you’re wearing and securing your shoes. Make sure your wife or girlfriend is wearing flats rather than high heels if you’re traveling together. Running in stilettos is difficult.
  • Before boarding an aircraft, don’t drink anything. In the case of a collision, you want to be totally present.
  • Make sure your seatbelt is buckled up tight and low.
  • Go through your action plan one more time.

During this period, you don’t need to be paranoid, merely alert and comfortable.


As Soon as It Drops, Put On Your Oxygen Mask

At 30,000 feet, airliner cabins are pressurized, allowing passengers to breathe properly. At high altitudes, when a cabin loses pressure, there is so little air that getting oxygen into your veins is almost difficult. This is when oxygen masks are useful. They provide pure oxygen to your nose and mouth, allowing you to breathe normally.

In the case that the mask falls from the sky, put it on as quickly as possible. Most people believe they can survive an hour without a mask when an aircraft loses pressure, according to passenger surveys. You just have a few seconds left. Mental impairment may be caused by only a few seconds of oxygen deprivation. You’ll need all of your mental faculties intact when the aircraft lands/crashes if you want to make it out alive. Also, adhere to the safety standards by fastening your mask first before assisting others. If you don’t get enough oxygen to your brain, you’re pretty much worthless to others.

Assume the position of a brace.

Man assuming brace position in airplane seat illustration.

The concept of brace postures may seem absurd; after all, curling up in a ball isn’t going to help you survive an aircraft crash, right? However, studies have shown that brace postures increase the odds of survival in the event of an emergency crash landing. When your head smacks against the seat in front of you, the placements help minimize the velocity of your head. Furthermore, they aid in the reduction of limb flapping.

Make sure your seatbelt is firmly buckled – low and tight — across your lap in addition to adopting a bracing posture. Those bad guys can endure 3,000 pounds of force, which is almost three times the amount of force your body can tolerate without passing out. You can rely on them.

Forget about your carry-on luggage and think about the kids.

Alright. You’re still alive after the jet crash-landed. It’s time to go to the exits as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that you only have 90 seconds.

You need to be reminded to forget your carry-on baggage, believe it or not! If you attempt to climb down the really steep inflatable slides with it, it will slow you down and obstruct others’ escape, and it may damage you or someone else. When you get back to your house safely, you can acquire another iPad.

Don’t forget about your kids in your haste to get off the aircraft. That really does happen. In a catastrophe, your brain does silly things. “I have kids,” keep telling yourself. I have a family. “I have a family.” In an ideal world, you and your wife and children should have a plan in place for who goes with whom in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Don’t forget about your kids in your haste to get off the aircraft. That really does happen. In a catastrophe, your brain does silly things. “I have kids,” keep telling yourself. I have a family. “I have a family.” In an ideal world, you and your wife and children should have a plan in place for who goes with whom in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Ben Sherwood’s The Survivor’s Club is the source of this information. 

Ted Slampyak created the illustrations.



The “how to survive a plane crash in the ocean” is an article that outlines 10 tips that could save your life if you are ever involved in a plane crash.

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