The 10 Safest Airlines in the World

Finnair airplane
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For some travelers, the age of glamour in the sky is long gone. Factor in today's airline-specific flight restrictions and health protocols, and flying can be not only a hassle, but downright scary. Still, for others who can afford perks like lie-flat beds, onboard showers, or, better yet, a share in a private jet company, like NetJets, flying has never been better. In all cases, it's easy to forget that the primary function of an airline is simple, and even existential: Getting passengers safely from point A to point B. With this in mind, it's nice to know what airline companies truly have the safest rating before booking your flight. For this reason, we've included a list compiled by data collected from AirlineRatings.com to help ease your mind.

The Safest Airlines

Many of the carriers that make the "safest airlines" list, aside from Alaska Airlines, offer international travel packages to faraway destinations. The planes are big, the service superb, and the chance that you'll arrive both healthy, and in one piece, is pretty much guaranteed. However, many of the safest airlines in the world might not be the ones you're expecting. Just because an airline is elegant and high-class doesn't mean it's any more likely to get you to your destination alive and well.

According to reports from AirlineRatings.com in 2021, below are the world's 10 safest airlines:

  1. Qantas
  2. Qatar Airways
  3. Air New Zealand
  4. Singapore Airlines
  5. Emirates
  6. EVA Air
  7. Etihad Airways
  8. Alaska Airlines
  9. Cathay Pacific Airways
  10. British Airways

How Airline Safety Ratings Work

According to AirlineRatings.com, "The safety rating for each airline is based on a comprehensive analysis of crash and pilot-related serious incident data combined with audits from the world’s aviation governing body ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] and leading association, IATA [International Air Transport Association], along with the latest COVID-19 compliance data." Each airline has the potential to earn seven stars in its ranking.

Germany's Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JADEC) separates itself by also taking into account the carriers' regular safety audits, which assess an airline's preparedness and compliance. The organization then presents its findings as a function of annual passenger numbers, which is why some lesser airlines rarely rise to the top ranks of its list.

In order to reach a 100 percent rating from JADEC, airlines must:

  • Remain free from incidents and accidents for 30 years.
  • Only serve long-haul flights.
  • Operate a young fleet of airplanes between three and nine years old.
  • Pass all safety assessments relative to the airline and its home country.
  • Avoid involvement in systemic operational risks, like flying in seasonal bad weather, over challenging topography, and on certain ocean routes.
  • Operate in a country whose air safety authorities are transparent.

Other Airline Safety Authorities

  • Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JADEC): This German organization has rightfully earned its place as the barometer by which the world's safest airlines are measured. JADEC factors in three main categories that have an impact on risk factors. These include: aircraft accidents and incidents, both major ones involving fatalities, and minor ones, as simple as skidding off the runway, environmental factors, like weather, terrain, and infrastructure, and airline operational factors, like fleet age and route profiles.
  • AirlineRatings.com: This private entity, which is not associated with any national government (though it may use proprietary government data), publishes an annual list of the 20 safest airlines in the world. This list sometimes includes several airlines that do not appear on other authorities' lists, as the criteria for the ratings tend to differ slightly. AirlineRatings.com also creates several other airline lists—like a "regional carrier" rating lists and a "low-cost airline" rating lists—many of which have little to do with safety.
  • Airlines for America: This U.S.-based non-profit organization, which lobbies and consults with members of Congress to pass laws that benefit air travelers, uses data from the National Safety Council to assemble an annual safety record for US air carriers. Like AirlineRatings.com, Airlines for America does not exclusively focus on safety, and has interests in a variety of areas of air travel, including transparency in pricing and the effect of airline mergers in the competitive landscape.
  • SkyTrax: SkyTrax, is an international air transport rating organization based out of London. This entity analyzes over 190 safety and hygiene protocols, including customer and staff safety, standards of social distancing, the efficacy of cleaning systems both in the airport and onboard, and appropriate measures to enhance hygiene protection, like face mask usage. They categorize airlines with three different types of ratings: a five-star (excellent), a four-star (good), and a three-star (average) rating. You can sign up for frequent updates through SkyTrax to make sure your preferred airline is up to snuff before you travel.

One thing you should keep in mind, regardless of how each year's list shapes up, is that air travel is still the safest way to travel anywhere in the world. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), your odds of dying in an airplane crash, based on stats collected in 2019, were "too few to calculate," whereas the same organization cited a 1 in 107 chance you could die in a motor vehicle accident. Travel and Leisure Magazine attributes the fear of flying to a perceived risk, stating that, "Devastating events, such as plane crashes, grab our attention, induce fear, and tend to stick in our minds, giving us the false impression that these events are common occurrences, no matter how infrequently they happen." So, even when taking "dangerous" airlines into account, flying is still the safest way to go.

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