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OPINION: Why I’ll keep flying low-cost airlines, including AirAsia

by on June 27, 2017
 

On the morning of June 25, AirAsia X flight D7 237 departed Perth on a routine flight to Kuala Lumpur. About an hour and a half into the flight, a bang was heard from the left of the plane, and severe vibrations shook the plane all the way back to Perth. It landed safely, and passengers disembarked with no physical injuries reported.

Were it not such a serious incident, I would call the reporting of this event laughable. In reality, it is grossly sensationalised. Here are some headlines we have seen over the last 48 hours:

  • Pilot urges prayers as ‘technical issue’ forces turnaround – CNN
  • Pilot tells passengers to PRAY after engine failure cases jet to start shaking ‘like a washing machine’ – Daily Mail
  • AirAsia incident prompts expert warning on booking budget air travel – ABC News
  • AirAsia faces fresh probe after troubled Perth-Kuala Lumpur flight – ABC News
  • Pilot tells passengers to ‘say a prayer’ – PerthNow

In-flight engine failures, while not common, happen from time to time around the world. So what makes this incident so newsworthy? Perhaps:

  1. AirAsia X is a low-cost carrier,
  2. It is not only an Asian airline, it is Malaysian – a country sadly best-known for MH17 and MH370,
  3. A shocking misquote is available that makes a good headline,
  4. Accompanying video of the severe vibrations is viral gold, and
  5. An affiliated airline, AirAsia Indonesia, was involved in a fatal incident in 2014.

The low-hanging fruit has proved irresistible for editors. To get a sense of perspective, visit avherald.com and have a look at the number of incidents occurring worldwide that you’ll never hear about in the news. The vast majority end without casualties, as was the case in this incident. Are we now so starved of schadenfreude that some happy endings should become shock headlines?

Journalism should take a beating, not crew

The earliest reports appear to have come from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which reported this quote from passenger Sophie Nicolas:

I could just tell by the cabin crew’s reaction that it was really bad… [Crew] said ‘I hope you all say a prayer, I’ll be saying a prayer too, and let’s hope that we all get back home safely’… I was crying a lot, a lot of people were crying, trying to call their mums and stuff but we couldn’t really do anything just wait and trust the captain… He delivered us home safely which is amazing, everybody burst into applause when we landed.

If this is the source of the information that news outlets use to imply that the captain asked all passengers to pray, then clearly this is a mistake. My reading of the quote suggests that this was intimated by cabin crew, which is not only understandable but human. I have yet to find any other recording or direct quote from a passenger or reputable source saying that the captain asked for prayer. Its absence does not suggest it didn’t happen, it’s just remarkable if it’s based on this quote.

Additionally, video from the flight which does include announcements from the flight deck have been incorrectly transcribed by TV News:

Incorrect: “Please pay attention, and also please listen to everything. Our survival depends on you cooperating.”

Correct: “Please pay attention, and also please listen to their briefing. Our survival depends on you cooperating.”

There is nothing wrong with the pilot’s English. He is clear and well-spoken, and asking passengers to listen to the cabin crew safety briefing. In the context of reported prayer requests, the difference puts an unfortunate complexion on the conduct of the flight crew.

Opinion - Flying AirAsia Channel 7 report

Responsible journalism vs aviation

In the age where turbulence is caused by “air pockets” (which do not exist) and planes that routinely “plunge”, it’s hard not to feel that journalism is failing aviation. Furthermore, column inches are dedicated to opinions such as this:

Australians regrettably think with their pocket and not their head, because if you go to the trouble of working out whether a carrier’s got a record or not you would look at AirAsia and you would say ‘well why would I fly with that carrier who can’t get seven stars?’… If the difference in the fare was $200, is my life worth $200? Strategic Aviation Solutions chairman and aviation expert Neil Hansford reported by ABC News

Strident statements like this suggest that the more you pay, the safer you’ll be. This is manifestly ignorant. Pretty cabin uniforms, amenity bags and a meal with a chef’s name on it do not a safe airline make. Sit around an airport in typhoon season and see who continues to take off or land when everyone else avoids the area. Then revisit your preconceptions. If you do wish to look at the numbers, AirAsia X scores 6/7 stars for safety using the scale mentioned by Mr Hansford, and is an eighth of a notch from getting its 7th star (but that’s a country notch rather than an airline notch). This places it higher than Qatar Airways, the airline voted world’s best by Skytrax last week.

Finally – and most importantly – journalists, experts, commentators and other folks who were not on that plane were not on that plane. The speculation and conjecture is not only pointless, it smears the character and conduct of crew who, for all we know, made their bread and butter under incredibly stressful circumstances. Let’s wait until the official investigation provides more information before embarking on crew- and airline-bashing.

Why I’ll keep flying AirAsia

With all the hysteria there will be many asking whether AirAsia is still an airline they should consider flying. Here are three reason I won’t be having any such qualms:

1. The people

Having written extensively about AirAsia, we have also met many who work for the airline. They are affectionately termed All-Stars. Branding it may be, but it’s difficult to convey just how much pride these people have for their work.

2. The mission

I have long felt that AirAsia’s motto is one that resonates: “now everyone can fly”. It’s true that more people fly now than at any point in history, and low-cost airlines such as Southwest, Ryanair and AirAsia have all played their roles in this. In the era of the Cold War, Juan Trippe once called the Boeing 747 a great weapon of peace, competing with the intercontinental ballistic missile. The rationale was that travel led to exposure, learning and eventually understanding.

Modern low-cost air travel takes this idea to new heights. Scenes at modern airports are more representative of society at large than ever before. Should we lament the passing of the golden age of travel, where people dressed to fly? I think not. This is the golden age of travel.

3. We can travel

No one at Economy Traveller has ever been paid by AirAsia. We fly AirAsia extensively on our own dime merely because it’s the right price and it serves us well. It takes us to places where we want (or need) to go, whether under happy, sad or commercial circumstances.

My reasoning may sound somewhat effusive, but I that feel some balance is needed considering the premature and unearned criticism that has been levelled at AirAsia X in recent days. I also feel that the above applies equally to reporting of all airline incidents, which leaves much to be desired. We do our best to remain objective and conscious of the fact that our readers rely on our knowledge gained through experience. No opinion, mine or otherwise, can compete with that.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

This article is the opinion of the author and was not instigated or paid for by AirAsia or any other party. It is not necessarily the opinion of Economy Traveller.

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