Remember the scene in the movie Rain Man, where Dustin Hoffman, playing the title character, refuses to get on any airline except Qantas? His reason: it was the only airline that had never had a fatal crash. That was back in 1988, but guess what – he’s still right. And as a reward for its amazing safety record, the Australian carrier was named the world’s safest airline for 2017 in a recent survey.
The survey, carried out by an expert panel at the AirlineRatings.com website, cites Qantas’ “global reputation for excellence in safety”, and notes that its pilots “are regarded as some of the world’s best”. What’s more, it looks like Qantas is in the right part of the world if you’re looking for safe airlines. Out of the top 20 airlines on the list, eight are from Australasia.
Close behind Qantas comes one of my favourite airlines, Air New Zealand, which was AirlineRatings.com’s safest airline of 2016. The survey notes that after a restructuring in 2001, ANZ “is now a leader in innovation, value, passenger comfort, service and satisfaction.” There’s also Japan’s All Nippon Airways, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways, Taiwan’s Eva Air, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Australia.
European airlines also have a good representation, with British Airways, Finnair, KLM, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airline System, Swiss International Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic making the top 20. They’re joined by Etihad, from the United Arab Emirates. All the European lines get full marks for safety, though the survey finds their customer service falls a bit short. Best is Swiss Air, which the website calls “a superior full service airline with in-flight product continuity across the fleet and route network.” It’s also “the world’s first ‘allergy friendly’ certified airline.”
That leaves North America. And the good news is that Delta Air Lines and United Airlines – two of the big four U.S. carriers – make the top 20, along with Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines. Again, all get full marks for safety, though all but Delta fall well below European standards for their customer product. “Delta is the only U.S. carrier to offer personal, on demand entertainment at every seat on all long-haul, international flights,” the survey notes.
The bad news is that the other two U.S. majors, American Airlines and Southwest, don’t make it onto the list. Neither does Air Canada, my national carrier.
What about the growing class of budget airlines? AirlineRatings.com has a top 10 for safest airline: Aer Lingus, Flybe, HK Express, JetBlue, Jetstar Australia, Jetstar Asia, Thomas Cook, Virgin America, Vueling and Westjet. At least Canada’s Westjet rates a mention here. Even JetBlue scores top marks for safety.
It’s good to know who’s going above and beyond to make sure you get where you’re going in one piece. But if you’re a white-knuckle flyer, I wouldn’t worry too much — even if you’re not flying on the world’s safest airline. In fact, according to the figures, flying has gotten considerably safer over the past few decades. For all my criticism of the flight experience, it’s still the safest way to travel.
Want proof? The International Air Transport Association estimates there were 19 fatal accidents in 2016, which caused 325 passenger deaths. Sounds like a lot — but during that year, the airline industry carried 3.7 billion passengers on 36 million flights. By my calculation, that means your chances of dying in a plane accident are less than one in 11 million.
So, why are people so fearful? It’s true, flying is a pretty weird thing, loading people into a metal tube and defying gravity by shooting them through the air. But the website says social media are partly to blame. When an accident does happen these days, passengers’ pictures and video are soon spread all over the world via the web. Those images become constant reminders of the dangers of flying.
There are some airlines that do have failing grades, though, And while AirlineRatings.com doesn’t call them out by name, it does say that 10 airlines managed only one star out of seven in its rankings, all of them from Indonesia, Nepal, Afghanistan and Surinam. So if you’re in those countries, maybe it’s worth insisting on Qantas to get where you’re going — even if you have to fly to Sydney on the way.