As the mystery deepens surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, I ask a Sydney travel agent how such a disaster affects travellers’ choices. He says customers are quick to vote with their feet and book on other airlines instead.
The Malaysia Airlines website has removed promotional material from its home page, and replaced it with updates on the airliner’s disappearance.
Asiana had an instant reduction in bookings after flight 214 crashed at San Francisco Airport on July 6, last year. Of the 307 people aboard, two passengers died at the crash scene (one from being run over by an emergency vehicle) and a third died in hospital several days later. The travel agent says he hasn’t received any bookings on this airline since then. This was the third fatal crash in Asiana’s 25-year history.
As for Malaysia Airlines, bookings have also been affected since the plane went missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bejing on Saturday March 8, the agent says. The plane was carrying 239 people, including 6 Australians and 2 New Zealanders. Up to 30 aircraft and 40 ships are searching for any sign of the plane, which lost contact with air traffic controllers just over an hour into the five-and-a-half-hour flight. Families of passengers and crew are waiting in anguish for any news.
Terrorism wasn’t ruled out. News reports say two European names — Christian Kozel, an Austrian, and Luigi Maraldi of Italy — were listed on the passenger manifest but neither man boarded the plane, officials said. Both had their passports stolen in Thailand over the past two years. Thai police said they were investigating a possible passport racket as flight information gave new details about bookings made in Thailand with the two stolen European passports. Two men travelling on the passports were seated next to each other on the ill-fated flight, with one-way tickets.
Investigators are also now looking at whether the plane tried to turn back in the last moments before it vanished off radar. The Boeing 777 is considered to be an extremely reliable plane, although the Asiana crash was also a 777. That crash was the first since the plane model had been in service. At the time of the crash the South Korean plane had accumulated 36,000 flight hours and 5,000 landing and takeoff cycles.
Reports today (March 13) say an oil rig worker off the southeast coast of Vietnam saw the Malaysian airliner explode in mid-air.
The only other serious incident with the 777 came in January 2008 when a British Airways jet landed 305 metres short of the runway at London’s Heathrow airport. Malaysia Airlines did have an incident in August 2005 with a 777 flying from Perth to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. While flying 11,580 metres above the Indian Ocean, the plane’s software incorrectly measured speed and acceleration, causing the plane to suddenly shoot up 915 metres. The pilot disengaged the autopilot and descended and landed safely back in Perth. A software update was quickly made on planes around the world, The Guardian reports.
How a plane crash
affects travel bookings
The manager of a travel agency in Sydney’s southern suburbs tells me it always takes a while for passenger confidence to be restored in an airline. He looks uncomfortable when I ask about Malaysia Airlines.
“It’s bad they haven’t found anything yet.
“It depends on crash findings, how long it takes to determine the cause of the crash and how many fatalities there were. People are used to the fact that air travel has become a lot safer now, so it’s always a shock when something like this occurs.
“Asiana is not one of our top five airlines for customers, but we haven’t booked a customer on Asiana since the crash in 2013, and our agency has a fair amount of traffic. When an Air France plane went down off the coast of South America in 2009 there was reduced demand. But people have short memories sometimes, and it took two years for the black box to be recovered. By then, I’d say passenger levels were back up to normal.”
The Air France Airbus crash on June 1, 2009, killed 216 passengers and 12 crew. Some wreckage was found five days later.
The Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC) has a list of airlines with the worst safety record. Sixty airlines are rated, based on the number and deadliness of the hull losses (destroyed airplanes) they have suffered in the past 30 years, and how they have fared more recently. Here are the stats as of January 2013.
Top 10 Most Dangerous
Airlines in the World
- China Airlines tops the list, with 8 crashed planes and 755 deaths
- TAM Air (Brazil), 6 crashes, 355 deaths
- Air India, 3 crashes, 329 deaths
- Gol Air, 3 crashes, 154 deaths
- Korean Air, 9 crashes, 687 deaths
- Saudi Arabia Airlines, 4 crashes, 310 deaths
- Turkish Airlines, 6 crashes, 188 deaths
- Thai Airways, 5 crashes, 309 deaths
- South African Airways, 1 crash, 159 deaths
- Skywest, 3 crashes, 22 deaths.
Air France doesn’t make the top 10 list, despite the 2009 crash and the fiery demise of its Concorde on July 25, 2000, killing 109 people onboard and 3 on the ground. It was the beginning of the end for Concorde as an airliner; the type was retired three years later. The evaluation method has copped some criticism, since several of these airlines have significantly improved their safety and operating standards over the past 30 years (Korean, Turkish, TAM, South African).
Airline Ratings has a comprehensive list of 425 airlines and their safety ratings. The authoritative site is headed by highly-regarded West Australian aviation journalist Geoffrey Thomas. At the bottom of the list are Indonesia’s Lion Air, Air India Express and Nepal’s oddly-named Yeti Airlines. According to Airline Ratings the following are the
Top 10 Safest Airlines
in the World:
- Top of the list is Qantas which has a fatality free record in the jet era (since 1951). Making up the top 10 with seven stars for safety and in- flight product are in alphabetical order:
- Air New Zealand
- All Nippon Airways,
- Cathay Pacific Airways,
- Etihad Airways
- Eva Air
- Royal Jordanian
- Singapore Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic.
* Top two images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons