How to ensure an airline is safe before booking

Lion Air JT610

A policewoman displays shoes, recovered during search operations, from passengers onboard the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 in Jakarta on Oct 31, 2018. Source: ADEK BERRY / AFP.

SINCE the downing of Lion Air flight JT610 on Monday, we’ve heard a lot about the airline’s poor safety record and the ban imposed on all Indonesian carriers due to safety concerns. For many, this is the first time they’re hearing this, as airline safety records only seemed to be discussed after a tragedy has occurred.

It’s understandable after such an event, in which all 189 people onboard died, that you will want to ensure an airline is safe before booking. Here are the resources you can use to source the information yourself without having to read about it in the news.

United States

The International Aviation Safety Assessment Programme (IASA) operates on a country to country basis, banning the country rather than specific airlines if they don’t meet the standard. Hence why all Indonesian airlines – including Lion Air – were on the no-fly list until 2016.

The programme ensures countries adhere to standards set by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Countries are judged on eight criteria. These include operating regulations, personnel qualifications and training, how safety concerns are resolved, aviation laws, and civil aviation system and safety oversight functions.

Results are published regularly in an Excel format, sorting countries into one of two categories. Category 1 does comply with ICAO standards; category 2 does not.

Up until 2016, Indonesia and all its airlines fell into Category two.

A wallet belonging to a passenger of the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in the waters north of Karawang, West Java province, on October 29, 2018. Source: Arif Ariadi/AFP

European Union

The EU Air Safety List works on an individual airline basis and allows you to download the full list of airlines banned from flying in EU airspace.

The organization produces two lists of restricted airlines. The first (Annexe A) includes all airlines banned from operating in Europe. The second list (Annex B) includes airlines that are subject to operational restrictions. Both lists are updated regularly and published on their website.

As with the United States, the list follows criteria from ICAO. On the latest 2018 list, a total 114 airlines are banned, from 15 countries, including Nepal, Afghanistan, and Eritrea.


Industry site Airline Ratings has compiled this information for you and makes it easy for you to do a quick check before you book.

They give each airline a safety score out of seven based on whether they meet the criteria for a range of world aviation governing bodies. These include the EU and the US’s Federal Aviation Authority, as well as the ICAO safety parameters and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA).

The IOSA is an internationally recognized evaluation of the operational management and control systems of an airline.

They also take into consideration if they have had any fatalities.

An official holds a map of ongoing search efforts to locate the wreckage of Lion Air flight JT 610, at Pangkal Pinang airport in Bangka Belitung province on Oct 29, 2018. Source: RONI BAYU / AFP.

If you’re undecided between a few different airlines, the site has a comparison tool to weigh up several airlines at a glance.

Tragedies like that of Lion Air acts as a troubling reminder to all air passengers how vulnerable we can be when in the skies. But it’s worth remembering that flying remains the safest form of travel. In 2017, the IATA which represents 290 member airlines, or 82 percent of all air traffic, reported an accident rate of 1.08 per 1 million flights.

For major incidents, it’s the equivalent of one major accident for every 8.7 million flights.