Brace yourself properly – save your life!

The chances are that even if you listen to every safety announcement and diligently read the safety chart, you will have little idea of how to do the brace position properly.

Brace for Impact

Some airlines only provide detailed information on the brace position to business class passengers and up, even for a fee.  (In mid-2011 British Airways were charging £135 for a course giving you full and proper instruction on emergency procedures.)  Here on DIY Travel Expert you can read it for free!

To be frank, the safety charts are often of scant use at all in helping you to understand the brace position.  Airlines are stingy about space and cram as many passengers into the cabin as possible.  As a result. few passengers have the luxury of the amount of space depicted in the diagrams, where the seat in front of you is not a factor.  Most times you are going to have to brace yourself right against the back of the seat in front of you.


In an emergency the captain will usually make a brief announcement warning passengers to brace for impact.  Under certain circumstances the cabin crew will make the announcement, for instance if they recognise that something unusual and bad is happening during a takeoff.

You may only have a few seconds to respond.  The captain may say as little as “Brace for impact” or “Prepare for crash landing”.  At that stage he has troubles of his own and you should not expect lengthy instructions.

Cabin crew have their own positions which are different from yours, because their seats are different.


  1. Before you leave home: One seldom thinks of clothing as a factor in crash survival but it is worth a brief word.  Experts consider the best dress for a flight to be long pants, a shirt with long sleeves and closed lace-up shoes.  High heels are going to have to stay on the plane if you crash and you will lose time in removing them.  Sandals may not protect you from sharp debris or glass.  Nylon clothing is to be avoided because it burns readily and has poor thermal properties. Wool is best for thermal insulation when wet, and cotton has excellent wicking properties if you come down in a jungle, for instance.  If you are flying over snow and ice in bad weather, consider carrying a warm jacket on your lap.
  1. It has been suggested that you should buckle and unbuckle your belt a few times when you first sit down, to create “muscle-memory” of where to find the buckle.  It is in front of you, not to the side as it is in cars.  You do not want to have to think about where your buckle is in the possibly confusing aftermath of a crash.
  1. After the safety briefing, count and memorise the number of rows to the nearest exit.  It could be dark or smoky when you need to find your way out.
  1. Before a crash ensure that your seat belt is securely fastened.  This means having it with no slack, and pushing it down as far as it will go, to avoid internal injuries.  (You want the belt to stop your movement using your pelvis, which is strong, and not your gut.)
  1. Put your seat fully upright before getting into the brace position.

British brace position

Lean forward and rest your head on the seat in front of you as far below the tops of the seats as possible.  Place your hands on your head, but not interlocked.  One hand resting on top of the other.  Your feet should be tucked underneath your knees, flat on the floor.  Pull your elbows in towards your body.

The UK guidelines are more recent than the US ones, having been mandated in 1993 following analysis of injuries in the 1989 Kegworth disaster (British Midland Flight 92).

American brace position

Lean forward and rest your head on the seat in front of you as far below the tops of the seats as possible.  Place your hands on the seat in front as well, with one hand holding the other wrist.  Position your forearms at the sides of your head.  Your feet should be tucked underneath your knees, flat on the floor.

If the seat in front is too far away from you to lean on, bend over and put your arms under your knees, holding onto your forearms.  Alternatively, you can hold your ankles.

Guidelines for infant’s brace position

While holding your baby on your lap, adopt the position as best you can, holding the infant with one arm and making sure that the head is protected.

The rationale for the position

The reasoning behind the brace position is the following.  Having your head against the nearest surface that it would bang into during the landing reduces the possibility of head trauma as the impact is then reduced or eliminated.  Keeping your elbows in reduces flailing (arms being flung around from the force of the landing).

Having your feet tucked beneath your knees, as far back as they will go, reduces the risk of your shins or leg being broken on the base of the seat in front.  With broken shins you cannot escape without assistance.  Broken limbs were a contributory factor in the 1989 Kegworth disaster and Korean Airlines Flight 801.

By placing your arms at the sides of your face it will protect your head from being struck by debris.

Though you might not think it, the tray tables and the seat-backs are constructed of material designed to give some cushioning during impact.

You should not interlock your fingers because if you do that and you are struck by a heavy piece of luggage or debris, you will break all ten fingers.  Then how will you unbuckle your seat belt?  Put your dominant hand on your head and cover it with your other hand.  The changes are that even if some fingers are broken, you will still have the full use of your main hand to unbelt yourself, open the door and other such tasks.

By positioning your head as low as possible you somewhat reduce the risk of being clouted by the overhead baggage racks falling on you – the seats will then take the blow.  If you are over 6 ft in height then you may have difficulty in getting low enough.  Airlines “hate” tall people and big people.

The brace position saves lives

Some have been sceptical about the benefits of the brace position.  Accident investigations have confirmed that the brace position reduces injuries and saves lives.  In particular it reduces possible head trauma and ensures that you can escape from the stricken aeroplane without needing aid.

A good example is that of the emergency landing on the Hudson river by flight US1549 on 15 January 2009.  All 155 passengers on board survived because they experienced no head trauma and could evacuate the plane.  (However, pictures of the passengers standing on the wings with the plane in the river show that only 18 of them used their life-jackets!)

Another instance of the brace position saving lives was Scandinavian Airlines flight 751 which crashed and everybody survived.  Everyone on board had adopted the brace position.

Listen to the safety instructions, read the safety chart, and know how to do the brace position properly.


See also our articles on In-flight safety – hazard awareness and Deep vein thrombosis – protect yourself and Flying when you are ill – what to do

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