Avoiding Asian and African Airline Carriers

Q: Ok, your column on the deadliest crashes involved airlines that I mostly recognized. But in my backpacking days I remember my Lonely Planet guidebooks warning me away from some Asian and most African carriers. Is this justified?

Even the lesser-known foreign carriers are usually safe, and you’re often splitting hairs when comparing this or that carrier or geographic region. The airlines of some third-world nations are surprisingly dependable. One example is LAB, the national airline of Bolivia and one of the world’s oldest airlines, which flies among some of the hemisphere’s most treacherous terrain but hasn’t suffered a crash in decades.

Any of the major Asian carriers, from Singapore Airlines to Garuda (Indonesia), have perfectly acceptable, occasionally exemplary, safety records. But you’ll find exceptions when you get into the second-tier airlines in places like Cambodia or Myanmar (Burma). The state-run airline of Myanmar has a terrible reputation. When I flew from Yangon to Mandalay in that country recently, I chose one of the new independent carriers. Even so, I probably wouldn’t refuse a trip on the government company if my itinerary requires it.

Africa has a slew of sub-Saharan airlines I’d be wary of, but as with Asia their larger and more established names, like South African Airways, Royal Air Maroc, EgyptAir or Kenya Airways, are nothing to sweat. Frankly I’d be more comfortable traveling to parts of Africa — or anywhere else — with a local carrier that knows its territory and the various quirks of flying there.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.