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Thursday, 27 March 2014

Malaysia Airlines 370: How Do You Know If a Foreign Airline Is Safe?


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As the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight continues, you may have some questions about the safety of international travel. While it’s impossible to predict an incident like the Malaysian plane’s disappearance, there are plenty of precautions you can take as a passenger to protect yourself when flying abroad.
We asked three travel experts to offer their tips for preparing to travel on a foreign airline. They also weighed in on whether or not we should avoid international air travel in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines incident, and whether flying really is still safer than driving a car.
The tips come from Courtney Scott, Senior Editor of TravelocityJason Cochran, Editor-in-Chief of Frommers.com, and Sarah Schlichter, Senior Editor of IndependentTraveler.com.
Should we feel any less safe traveling on a foreign airline than on a domestic carrier?
Sarah Schlichter: “A lot of international carriers are quite safe, and they actually often offer more amenities and entertainment and more comfortable seats than U.S. carriers do. A lot of people actually prefer foreign carriers, especially carriers like Singapore or Cathay Pacific or Air New Zealand, which all ranked very highly in terms of both safety and amenities. So, I think people should not feel afraid to travel with a carrier that isn’t as familiar to them.
“However, they’re not all considered equal, so I would recommend, if you’re looking at an airline that is not familiar to you, going toAirlineRatings.com, which offers safety ratings as well as more service and amenity ratings. They base their safety ratings on things like international standards, FAA endorsement, whether the airline has had any fatalities in the last 10 years, and whether the fleet has ever been grounded by a governing body for safety concerns, and so that can either give you a red flag if the safety rating is not as high as you would like it to be, or help you feel a little bit more secure.”
Jason Cochran: “One thing that is good for people to remember, and perhaps reassuring, is that in most cases, flights that come into the United States from other countries have already passed some very important tests that have been applied by our government. The TSA and our government do audit other airports and other security procedures to ensure that the flights that fly to the United States will be at decreased risk. So really, I think you can feel pretty good if you’re getting on a flight from, say, Spain or Britain or Canada. It’s going to be fine.”
Courtney Scott: “If you have concerns about traveling internationally, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is something you can enroll in for free on the Travel.state.gov website. It alerts the government to your whereabouts while you’re abroad to make sure that it’s on record where you’ll be and when. So if you want to add an extra layer of comfort, that’s a nice, easy, free thing that the government offers.”
What are some of your tips for preparing to fly on a foreign airline? 
Sarah Schlichter: “One thing that some people are intimidated about when they’re flying on a foreign airline is the language barrier. The safety procedures on board do tend to be similar, and there’s always the in-flight safety card in your back pocket. Even if you can’t read it, there are diagrams, so you can take a look at the layout of the plane…It can’t hurt, certainly, to learn a few emergency words in the language of whatever carrier you’re flying on, just in case. Usually, I’ve found that flight attendants tend to speak multiple languages, but just in case there are instructions being yelled out in a language you don’t speak, it certainly can’t hurt to know a few emergency words like, ‘exit’ or ‘escape’ or ‘emergency.’
“It’s really important especially to find the nearest exit. We usually recommend trying to count the rows to the nearest exit so that even if something happens and the cabin is dark, you can tap the seats and count your way to where the exit would be. So I think it’s preparing yourself that way before a flight that could save your life, and could also just make you feel more secure, if you’re worried.”
Courtney Scott: “Each country has its own visa requirements, so as far as navigating what [you] need to travel through that country, I recommend going to Travel.state.gov. On that site, they have a Visa Wizard, which is a really easy way to help you navigate which countries require the visas and which don’t…Even if you’re traveling through multiple countries on the same trip, you may require different visas for each of those countries.
“As far as security goes, the same TSA rules that we have here in the U.S., [such as] having 3.4 oz [liquid containers] in a 1 quart bag and one carry-on per person—that rule applies in most airports around the world, including the Kuala Lumpur International Airport [in Malaysia]. I have seen some airports where shoes are not required to be off, and laptops are not required to be out of the baggage, but that really varies from airport to airport.”
Will the Malaysian plane incident lead to a tightening of security at airports around the world?
Jason Cochran: “I do think that in light of what’s recently happened with Malaysian Airlines, you’re going to see a tightening of security around the world and an increase in awareness of where the loopholes are…The fact that the two passengers with stolen passports were allowed on the flight has made international security authorities more aware that they need to buckle down just a little bit more on what they’re allowing through.
“America checks passenger lists against [intergovernmental policing agency] Interpol to find out if any stolen passports are being used, and we catch people all the time who shouldn’t be on planes. That apparently was not done in Malaysia, and I think that’s one of the areas you’ll see more scrutiny in the future while looking at passenger lists—simply because it’s embarrassing to have the world find out that you allowed two stolen passports to get on the plane, even if those stolen passports had nothing to do with the eventual disappearance of the flight.” 
If the missing plane had been from an American airline, would there have been any difference in the way the search has been conducted? 
Jason Cochran: “I do believe we would have had a lot more data to go by had this happened in the United States because we have so many systems monitoring airplanes. We have so many cell phone towers on the ground, whereas in that part of the world, they were flying over jungles, they were flying over empty sea, and so there were just fewer benchmarks along the way to keep track of the airline.
“Also, you had the problem of all those governments trying to cooperate with each other to share sensitive radar information, and if it had happened in the United States or Canada, it would have been a snap to get the information because you really only have one entity to deal with, or one story. So it has had an effect. Whenever you’re dealing with any flight that crosses multiple international boundaries, you therefore then have to coordinate many ways of doing things, and sometimes they don’t want to share sensitive information with each other because there might be history or friction between them.”
Despite the recent Malaysia Airlines incident, is flying in general still safer than driving a car? 
Jason Cochran: “I would say that. If you look at the track record of flying and you look at how many flights go every single day, this is news because it’s unusual because it never happens—or almost never happens. So I really wouldn’t want people to be afraid or stay home because of it because the numbers just don’t bear out that kind of fear. And also, most Americans will be flying to or from airports that connect with America, and the American government has much more intervention in those airports than they had in this flight, which went between Malaysia and China. So, I think most Americans traveling at least for leisure’s sake have very little to worry about because the airports they’ll be visiting have no doubt already undergone some scrutiny from the American government for their safety.”
Sarah Schlichter: “If you consider just how many flights fly perfectly normally and safely every day, and compare the percentage of flights that are affected by accidents to the percentage of car trips that are affected by accidents, it really is quite safe. I think people tend to feel like they’re more in control of a car that they’re driving, so you feel safer. But really, when you’re in a plane, the pilots have had hours and hours and hours of training—they’re professionals—and if something goes wrong with the plane, I mean, it’s their own safety at stake too. I absolutely understand fear of flying, but it really is still safer than driving a car.”
Courtney Scott: “We don’t know a lot yet about the Malaysia incident. We do know that air travel continues to be one of the safest forms of travel, and being a practical traveler, using common sense wherever you travel, whether in Asia or anywhere else, is best way to prepare yourself.”

@http://parade.condenast.com

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