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Why airline safety rankings are irrelevant

Angus Kidman 10 January 2017

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Qantas is the "world's safest airline", but so what?

Each year, AirlineRatings.com releases a top 20 list of the world's safest airlines. Qantas has been at the top of the list for the last four years, having never suffered a fatality in the jet era. Here are the 20 airlines that made the list in 2017 (listed alphabetically, the airlines aren't ranked apart from first place):

  • Air New Zealand
  • Alaska Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific Airways
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Etihad Airways
  • EVA Air
  • Finnair
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Japan Airlines
  • KLM
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airline System
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Swiss
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia

Local favourites Qantas, Virgin and Air New Zealand all made the list. AirlineRatings.com also released a list of the safest budget airlines, which arguably might be of a little more interest, since we know those airlines have less money to spend, and hence less money to spend on safety. Here's the top 10 for budget airlines, again alphabetically:

  • Aer Lingus
  • Flybe
  • HK Express
  • Jetblue
  • Jetstar Australia
  • Jetstar Asia
  • Thomas Cook
  • Virgin America
  • Vueling
  • Westjet

Jetstar will doubtless be happy to be on the list, while Tigerair presumably won't be surprised to be missing. A reminder for those with short memories: Tigerair Australia was grounded in Australia for several months in 2011 over safety concerns.

While the lists are interesting, here's the blunt truth: they're irrelevant when it comes to selecting an airline if you're flying out of Australia. Is there a risk that you'll die in an air crash? Yes, but it's a very slight one, and it might be due to factors that have nothing to do with the airline you've chosen: bad weather, freak equipment failure, terrorist activity.

The fact remains that you're much more likely to do in a car accident on the way to the airport than you are once you get on the plane. In 2015, 1,209 Australians were killed in motor vehicle accidents. That's a much bigger risk, but even so it's still only 5.08 people per 100,000 of population.

Despite Tigerair's past issues, I'll still fly on the airline when it's a suitable choice. And while Qantas is my regular airline of choice, that's because I've worked my way up in status there, not because of the safety record. Life itself is too short to worry about that kind of thing.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

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