This Is Why Some Airplanes Have Rear-Facing Seats

It's rare to find airplane seats that face backward, but it's not as strange an idea as you might think.

There are a ton of airplane facts and airplane features to learn about, like why it’s always so cold on airplanes, why airplane windows are round, what happens when you flush an airplane toilet. But what about those airplane seats? There are different airplane seats for every type of need, but they all face the same way—forward. Although airplane seats face the front of the cabin, research from as far back as 1950 shows that we might be facing the wrong way.

Should airplane seats face backward and is it safer?

Yes, sitting backward on an airplane may actually be safer. Rear-facing seats provide more support for the torso and head, according to an Aircraft SEAT Committee participant from SAE International, a company that develops safety standards. “Forward-facing seats allow the occupant’s upper torso to move forward and consequently do not provide the same level of protection,” the member says. The extra support from facing backward is the same reason babies stay in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, explains Dan Boland, founder of holidayers.com and an Airbus A350 pilot working for an international airline. 

Why don’t most airlines have backward-facing seats?

Although there are a handful of airlines that do have some rear-facing seats (more on that later), they are few and far between, because rear-facing seats are so heavy. “In a crash, these seats will take more strain from the passenger than the more common forward-facing seats and thus need more support from the floor below,” Boland says. “Which in turn adds more weight to the aircraft, and more weight always burns more fuel.” More fuel costs more money, so it’s unlikely that you’ll see rear-facing seats in economy, as it’s not worth the expense for airlines, according to Boland.

Do some airlines have seats that face backward?

Yes, there are some airlines that offer seats that face backward. If you do want to try out a rear-facing airplane seat, opt for business class seats with airlines like American, United, Qatar, and British Airways, Boland says. “Most of the seats will be forward-facing, but one or two on the windows will be rear-facing,” he says. The staggered seat arrangement means some people will face each other, but SeatGuru notes there are walls, screens, and other visual amenities to distract passengers from making awkward eye contact.

Why do flight attendants sit backward?

While there isn’t a definitive answer as to why flight attendants sit backward, it’s rumored that it’s so they can clearly see the passengers on the plane. This is so the attendants can make sure everyone is following safety protocols and can react quickly if there is an emergency. Next, learn what you’re doing on an airplane that flight attendants wouldn’t.

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Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.