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In the event of a crash, facing backward sounds much safer:

  1. Forces are applied on a much larger surface (your whole back is in contact with the seats, instead of just a seatbelt and maybe the opposite seat)
  2. Most passenger are already in position in case of an unpredicted crash.
  3. Passenger without a seatbelt might have higher survival rate

Flying objects would maybe be more dangerous, but

  1. What made designers do it this way ?
  2. Is there any plane with such a configuration ?
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  • $\begingroup$ Related: airspacemag.com/need-to-know/… $\endgroup$
    – vasin1987
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ you already have people that "get nauseous" when they sit backward on a train let alone a plane $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ Southwest used to have rear-facing seats against the bulkheads. I rode (was stuck there) more than once. This article suggests they were eliminated when they couldn't meet new safety requirements. blogsouthwest.com/flashback-fridays-southwest-airlines’-interiors-over-years/ $\endgroup$
    – BowlOfRed
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 9:37
  • $\begingroup$ I've flown on Tu-134 aircraft in the USSR that had some seats facing backwards and some forward, to save space. Each bulkhead had backward facing seats, facing the next seat row. Allowed them to cram in a few more passengers (as the leg room wasn't twice that of a regular 2 rows of seats...). $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 6:45

5 Answers 5

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You are absolutely correct, backward facing seats are safer.

But tradition and a subjective feeling of being treated better means that people will prefer to be seated facing forward. Some even claim that they develop motion sickness when sitting backwards. This can indeed be the case for some people in trains with their big windows, but much less so in aircraft.

Just note which seats will be occupied last in a train with lounge/mixed seating.

In order to cram the highest number of passengers into their planes, the airlines would need to convert all seats to the backward orientation, and you can be sure there will be some passengers who will complain. If passenger safety would be important to them, airlines could already use better seatbelts, like the 5-point-harnesses used in gliders and aerobatics planes, but they all use the minimum lap belt which is mandated and nothing more. Convenience and cost always win over safety.

Now I need to mention two caveats:

  1. If passengers should be seated backwards, the industry needs to develop new seats. It will not be helpful to turn existing seats around - they would collapse at much lower loads than what a backward-sitting human can sustain. However, to fully support these higher loads, seats will be more heavy and possibly even the floor structure needs to be beefed up.
  2. Backward-facing seating will only help in the fraction of cases where deceleration loads are too high for a forward-facing person, but low enough to make the crash survivable. If the plane flies into a mountain or ditches and sinks before people get out, the better seating will not help.

Some military transports have backward-facing seats. In some crashes, the survivability rate was seven times higher in those than in forward-facing seats. Early air travel also used mixed seating, e.g. on the Zeppelins or the Dornier Do-X. One airline to use mixed seating was Southwest Airlines with their "love seats", and business jets have mixed seating as standard. Thanks to @reirab for pointing out that United Business class also has some backward-facing seats.

Cabin of the Do-X Cabin of the Do-X. No seatbelts, seats not bolted to the floor. These were the days ...

Cabin of the Dassault Falcon 7X business jet

Cabin of the Dassault Falcon 7X business jet.

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    $\begingroup$ @cpast: Good question! Since the floor of military cargo planes is designed to handle cargo, a comparison with airliner floors is not straightforward. I would expect that the seats can carry higher loads, but I have no data on this. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ In British Airways' most common configuration of business class, half the seats are rear-facing -- example. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf The same is true of United Airlines' business class. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ And I would not assume it is because of tradition, since traditionally there was mixed seating. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ "Just note which seats will be occupied last in a train with lounge/mixed seating." British trains have half the seats facing each way (typically, all seats face towards the midpoint of the carriage). I honestly can't say I've noticed any particular phenomenon of forward-facing seats filling first, even when the carriage is very lightly occupied. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 13:59
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It seems that backwarding seat make passenger feel not good.

However, some airlines offer backward seat porducts in business and first class

For example:

United B747 & B777 Business class

enter image description here

Etihad A380 business and first class

enter image description here

Morover, All(4) types of widebodies in BA do offer Business backward seats , its whole subsidiary Openskies also offer business backward seats in their b757

enter image description here enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ If anyone in business class doesn't like a backward facing seat, I'd be willing to swap with them... $\endgroup$
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ When I've flown southwest the seats in front of the exits were rear-facing. They were quite uncomfortable when the plane was pitched upward, but nice when the plane was pitched downward. $\endgroup$
    – supercat
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 16:15
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This is actually somewhat common on GA aircraft. The Beech Bonanza and Piper Saratoga, Meridian, Matrix, and Seneca have "Club Seating" (as well as I'm sure other 6 place planes I don't know about)

As seen here in this Saratoga

Saratoga

I don't know if this is a safety thing or a design matter but it does fall under your question Is there any plane with such a configuration?

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I think one more reason is the pitch of the aircraft during climb and descent phases, and the take off acceleration. During take-off and early climb, as acceleration (almost 0.3g for an A320) slams the passenger into the seat back, it would be very uncomfortable to seat backward with only a belt retaining the pax (a 80kg passenger will be subjected to a force of 240N, which corresponds to the load of 24 bottles of water, distributed on all the back in one case, and only the surface of the belt with a backward seat). Moreover the pitch during initial climb can reach 16° (A320) and remains between 10 and 5° during all climb phase. It is oubvious that sitting forward is better (I mean, more comfortable) in those conditions. During descent and landing, pitch is not less than -3° (A320). Regarding images with lounge in cabin, I dont know if passengers have to go back to their seat during take-off and landing, for safety reasons.

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The VC-10s used by the RAF had all the seats facing backward.

enter image description here

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