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.
Airplane seats that face backward are safer
Backward facing seats might 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 why babies stay in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, explains Dan Boland, the founder of holidayers.com, and an Airbus A350 pilot working for an international airline. (Discover the secret phrases pilots say.)
Most airlines don’t have backward-facing seats for one reason
Although there are a handful of airlines that do have some rear-facing seats (more on that later), they are far and few 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. There are plenty of other airplane facts you’ve always been curious about, but the seat placement probably isn’t one you questioned. (Here’s why airlines never tell you how long flights really are.)
There are a handful of airlines that do have 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 in the row 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. Don’t worry, avoiding eye contact isn’t one of the rude airplane habits you need to worry about.