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When I first time heard this "legend" I couldn't believe it. I was really surprised, if not shocked, to actually find row 13 missing on my next passenger flight. (I believe it was a Boeing 737.) Is this really due to superstition about the 13th row? Was it so hard to push aircraft producers to renumber all other seat rows?

I know that people can be absurd about their superstitions. But realistically, the odds that a passenger airplane will crash are minimal. And should it really crash, chances that you'll survive due to being seated in row 12 or 14, as opposed to 13, must be below statistical error.

I find it very difficult to believe that people would choose not to fly simply due to superstition about being seated in row 13. Is there a more rational explanation?

EDIT (after Patrick's answer): I don't know, if I expressed myself enough clearly. I don't think, that people are dumb, because the're worried about number 13. I rather think, that thinking, that row 13 is unlucky, specifically on airplanes (where, in case case of crash all seats mostly are equally unlucky) is a bit weird.

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    $\begingroup$ Also the 13 floor, room etc. are typically skipped over but that depends heavily on culture (13 is not bad luck everywhere) $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Oct 14 '14 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ There is also a question on skeptics about the 13th floor in hotels, which mentions aircraft as well $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Oct 14 '14 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ Missing row numbers depend on the specific carrier. Many have 13. Some are missing 13. Some are missing 11. $\endgroup$ – casey Oct 14 '14 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that skipping 13 when numbering things in general is fairly common in the West. Building floor numbers, for example; especially older buildings. But I don't think it's really superstition at this point, but rather just a tradition. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Oct 14 '14 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ I always assumed that 1% of people avoid the number 13, and the other 99% don't care. So by removing the number 13, they appeal to 100% of customers. $\endgroup$ – Mooing Duck Oct 14 '14 at 18:05
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Fear of number 13 is known as Triskaidekaphobia.

I randomly entered some flight numbers on SeatGuru and found that this one has row 13 (aircraft is B737):

Row 13

In this case, there is no 13th row:

enter image description here

However, in this case, several row numbers (12, 13, 14) are skipped to adjust galleys and lavatories. This could be that they were added later or can be removed in future to add more rows.

enter image description here


The bottom line is that regardless of what you name it, there remains a 13th row. If a plane is about to crash (God forbid) I would be worried about being on the plane, rather than just the seat number. There are several studies that safest seats are in the back. So, rows 1-12 may not be as unlucky as row 13.

If you have 12 million dollars and I can give you one million more1, would you not take it?

In several parts of the world 13 is a lucky number.


1Trust me, I will not do it, even if I have that much money.

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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, you don't need Triskaidekaphobia for 13 to be a commercially unviable number. You just need the superstition that 13 is unlucky. A phobia is not the same as a superstition. Phobias are more hardcore than that. It's not merely avoiding buying seats on row 13 but more like preferring to die rather than set on a row with number 13. $\endgroup$ – slebetman Oct 15 '14 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ Also, here in Asia you find building floors and airplane seats with the numeral "4" missing (no row 4 or row 14 or row 24..) since the word for "four" in various Chinese dialects sounds like "death" or "die" $\endgroup$ – slebetman Oct 15 '14 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ I honestly think in most cases it has less to do with actual fear and far more to do with tradition. I personally get a bit of a laugh when I get in an elevator that skips the 13th floor. I like traditions, especially irrational ones (so long as no one is hurt), it helps me remember I belong to a larger group of people :). $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Oct 15 '14 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ @slebetman Same reason there was no Psion Series 4! $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races with Monica Jul 30 at 22:54
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Aircraft producers don't choose numbering schemes, it's up to the airline to specify layout, row numbers, lavatory placement, etc. Airlines think about their customer base, and in the western world the occasional person has a fear of the number 13 so some airlines choose to skip the number 13. It costs them little to do so and it shows their good will.

They'll go out of their way to skip the number 13 but they skimp on decent food and legroom. It says something about the industry, doesn't it?

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    $\begingroup$ You already said it, it costs them little (very close to nothing). Changing the food or the legroom costs millions. So yeah, it says something about the industry: that they're in it for the money. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Oct 14 '14 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed. Row and seat numbering (and even number, width, and type of seats) is purely up to the airlines, not the aircraft manufacturers. $\endgroup$ – reirab Oct 14 '14 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ actually, manufacturers offer semi-standard layouts that customers can adapt to their specifications. Many elect to just change the fabric and paint colours and won't bother to change the row number signs as well :) $\endgroup$ – jwenting Oct 15 '14 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ I just want to point out the irony of the 13 upvotes. That is all. $\endgroup$ – Thebluefish Oct 16 '14 at 0:52
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the airlines designate the seating numbers, just like they designate the flight numbers. Look how many different airlines have flight 777 to Las Vegas. $\endgroup$ – Eric Oct 17 '14 at 1:02
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It might also be economical thinking behind it: Many people in the west do not want to sit in row 13, so leaving it completely out makes it one less special wish customers can utter (and therefore one less thing the airline has to care about).

Source: Worked beside my studies at several places. One was a European airline's help-line. They had no. 13 and we had an incredible number of calls of people asking to be re-seated... Not having a 13 solves this problem entirely.

By the way: I find your wording in the question very aggressive towards people with this issue. It sounds like you considered them dumb. In fact it is people of high intelligence who tend to be neurotics of this kind. I had a professor back at the ETH who hated the number 17. He's well-renowned and well-known in his area but wherever he goes, he will never sit on seat 17, in row 17 or reside in room 17 (or even just ending in 17).

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  • $\begingroup$ indeed, it's often the highly intelligent who have the (in the eyes of others) weirdest quircks. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Oct 15 '14 at 6:46
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know, if I expressed myself enough clearly. I don't think, that people are dumb, because the're worried about number 13. I rather think, that thinking, that row 13 is unlucky, specifically on airplanes (where, in case case of crash, all seats mostly are equally unlucky), is a bit weird. $\endgroup$ – trejder Oct 15 '14 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry for my misunderstanding then, I just felt that there was a certain prejudice in the question. In that case I was wrong :) Anyways: In the case of superstition, logics plays a minor role. I mean, is there really a difference between somebody thinking, that row 13 on the plane is "evil" or somebody having to touch wood before going out? It's the same "logic" behind. In one way or another we all have quirks, some stronger, some weaker. As long as one's daily life is not affected, it can be ignored, otherwise there are therapies. $\endgroup$ – Patric Hartmann Oct 17 '14 at 11:35
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It's essentially 100% free for an aircraft production team to skip row 13 and go straight from 12 to 14, when numbering. Why would you not do this, and risk upsetting a minority of your paying customers who may have a less enjoyable flight because they are superstitious? It isn't particularly relevant whether you think it's silly: it's a cost-benefit thing.

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  • $\begingroup$ Agreed. Flying, for many people, is inherently a scary process; putting yourself in the hands of an unknown, unseen group of people, where any serious mishap is more likely to end in disaster than not (whether or not this is true does not change what many continue to believe)... why make an added burden of sitting someone in what that person may believe is an unlucky seat. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Oct 15 '14 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ As I explained in some comment, I don't think, that being scary for sitting in row 13 is silly. I think, this is silly, because in case of crash you're most likely dead, no matter, in which seat you're sitting. It is not like: I won't bet 13, because it is unlucky for me and I have chance to win, if I bet 14 or 12. It is like: No matter, what I bet, I loose (in case of airplane crash). $\endgroup$ – trejder Oct 15 '14 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ @trejder: So what? You're trying to rationalise about irrational fears; that won't work. It's great to hear that you're a perfect being and aren't afraid of anything, but there are over seven billion people in the world and this change to row numbering costs basically nothing. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 15 '14 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ I have never said, that I'm perfect, nor that I aren't afraid of anything. I have actually never said, that I find this silly. All I was asking, was to find, if there are other reasons for renumbering seats. I'm very happy, that this question is quite famous and brought so much attention and many good quality answers. But, conlusions made out of my question, by people like you, somethimes surprises me. $\endgroup$ – trejder Oct 15 '14 at 18:41
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Consider that in Italy number 17 is also an unlucky number. This is why Alitalia (amongst others) removes both rows 13 and 17.

Alitalia removes rows 13 and 17

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I don't know about airplanes, but I believe it is the reason why hospitals do not have any room labeled as room 13 on any of their floors. Room 413 on the 4th floor is labeled as room 414.

I can only assume that patients who are already anxious about their illness will reach out for an excuse, no mater how absurd, that might be hindering their recovery, and therefore they result in having Triskaidekaphobia. It is their attempt to find something to blame.

Hospital administrators do not want to be constantly handling complaints and requests from people asking to be moved to another room, so they simply have no room 13 to begin with.

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