SHANGHAI – How grim can it get for Malaysia Airlines? Earlier this week the carrier announced that it’s offering no-questions-asked refunds or postponements on all tickets valid for travel in 2014 — including previously nonrefundable tickets. It’s a generous offer, and one that the airline no doubt expected many passengers to accept in the numb aftermath of its serial air disasters — Flights MH370 and MH17.
Indeed, of the 680 total air fatalities so far in 2014 — another large crash and this will be the worst year for fatalities since 2005, according to Bloomberg News — an astonishing 537 resulted from the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flights. Who, at this point, wants to fly that airline? I do.
In fact, I regularly fly Malaysia Airlines and have two reservations on the carrier (one actually on a subsidiary) for later this year. With apologies to friends and family who regularly send me notes such as, “You don’t need to fly Malaysia,” (and to the publisher who wrote “no Malaysia Air” on notes regarding a future book tour), I have no more intention of canceling those reservations than of canceling my reservations on Delta and American for next week. The reason is straightforward: Air travel remains the safest means of getting from point A to point B. (Moreover, prior to this year’s accidents, Malaysia Airlines had a stellar safety record.) It’s a point that Tony Tyler, director general and chief executive officer of the International Air Transport Association, made in a statement this week:
Every day, approximately 100,000 flights take to the sky and land without incident. In 2013 more than 3 billion people flew and there were 210 fatalities. Regrettably we have surpassed that number already this year. But even so, getting on an aircraft is still among the safest activities that one can do.
Of course, that doesn’t minimize the tragic loss of life this week in Ukraine, Mali and Taiwan. There is grief to bear, mourning to be done and failures to be investigated — to prevent similar accidents in the future. But even as causes and blame are assessed, it’s important to keep in perspective the stunning safety record that global air travel has achieved over many decades.
According to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s most recent report on global air safety, the global air accident rate declined 13 percent from 2012 to 2013, from 3.2 accidents per million departures to 2.8 accidents per million departures. In real terms, that’s a decline from 99 fatalities in 388 accidents, to 90 fatalities in 173 accidents. In 2005, by comparison, there were 119 accidents with 825 fatalities (and in 1985 there were more than 2,000 air crash deaths resulting from dozens of accidents). It’s also worth noting that the last decade’s decline took place during a period of “historic growth rates” for passenger traffic, globally.
This has been an exceptionally bad week for flying. Nevertheless, according to Malaysia Airlines, neither the fatalities nor its generous refund policy has resulted in a surge in requests for refunds. For airlines and civil aviation authorities around the world, that’s a deserved vote of confidence. The skies remain safe.
Based in Asia, Adam Minter covers politics, culture, business and junk. He is the author of “Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade,” a best-selling account of his decade writing and reporting in the world’s scrap yards.