Accidents are simply a part of life, and while uncommon, it’s true that they can occur even while flying. Statistically speaking, air travel is perhaps the safest way to travel — you have only a 1, in 9,821 (or .01 percent) chance of dying in an air or space transport incident.
But according to a new in-depth analysis by Boeing, if an accident does occur, it’s far more likely to happen during certain parts of a flight than others.
Boeing analyzed worldwide commercial flights from 2007 to 2016, and determined that 48 percent of all fatal accidents occurred during a flight’s final descent and landing. Those airplane accidents were responsible for 46 percent of all onboard fatalities.
It’s a rather high number when you consider that the final approach and landing account for just 4 percent of an aircraft’s total journey.
After all, only 11 percent of major accidents occurred while cruising from 2007 to 2016, despite this stage taking up 57 percent of flight time.
Takeoff and the initial climb are the second-most critical parts of a flight, accounting for a combined 13 percent of fatal incidents. (Of those accidents, however, only 6 percent resulted in onboard fatalities.) So really, it’s those first and last few minutes of a flight that are the most dangerous.
In fact, these stages of flight — takeoff, initial climb, final approach, and landing — are known as the “plus three minus eight” rule. Echoing Boeing’s findings, Ben Sherwood, author of The Survivors Club — The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life, estimated that 80 percent of all plane crashes happen within the first three minutes of a flight or in the last eight minutes before landing.
And even if you’re in a crash (which, as we said, is exceedingly unlikely), there are ways to protect yourself.
Cheryl Schwartz, a retired United Airlines flight attendant said that it’s always crucial to know where the emergency exits are. The moment you’re seated, she explained, count the number of rows to the nearest exit.
Schwartz also said there are different brace positions to use, depending on where you’re seated. If you have a seat in front of you, for example, you can use it for support. If you don’t, bend over your legs and grab behind you knees.
Another tip? Select a middle seat in the back of the aircraft — it’s the safest place you can sit.