‘Dire warning’: Why you should avoid budget airlines

Lion Air's deadly Boeing 737 being removed from the sea four days after it crashed in 2013.

Lion Air's deadly Boeing 737 being removed from the sea four days after it crashed in 2013. Photo: Getty

A leading aviation expert says international budget airlines are plagued by safety issues and extreme staff training cost-cutting measures.

According to Monash University professor Greg Bamber, who has researched airline performance in Australia and overseas for more than 15 years, the latest Lion Air tragedy, killing 189 on board, was a warning to travellers when choosing to fly with budget airlines.

“Consumers need to be very cautious about budget airlines, particularly those in Indonesia, Africa and South America,” Professor Bamber told The New Daily.

“These low-cost carrier airlines aren’t paying great attention to detail when it comes to safety, like other carriers in Australia where there is stronger regulation,” he said.

Professor Bamber said Indonesia AirAsia and Irish carrier Ryanair were plagued with serious problems.

“To some extent these airlines have a ruthless approach when it comes  to cost-cutting in relation to the people they employ,” he said.

“In our book Up In The Air we have identified that these airlines such as Ryanair encountered major strikes in Europe by its employees because they’re not being treated properly.

“The same goes for Indonesia AirAsia who don’t treat their customers or employees very well,” he said.

“Research on Indonesian carriers show that its airlines haven’t kept up with the massive growth,” he said.

At least 11 bodies have been recovered from the Java Sea off Jakarta as the search for the wreck of the two-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet continues.

Indonesia has ordered an inspection of all Boeing 737 Max 8 planes belonging to national commercial airlines.

Lion Air is thought to currently have 11 of the jets in its fleet, while national carrier Garuda Indonesia has one.

Professor Bamber said the latest Lion Air tragedy was an unfortunate accident waiting to happen.

“The Lion Air incident reveals that there have been far too many incidents in the past 20 years and clearly they didn’t learn from their mistakes.

“This is why its best to tread with caution with Indonesian carriers, and it makes me wonder if there will be another ban on its airlines flying to European Union countries as was done in the past.” 

Airline Intelligence Research managing director and former Qantas chief economist Dr Tony Webber said Indonesia had an extremely poor safety record. 

“Indonesian aviation is growing too quickly, and when you try and grow too fast there are lots of safety and infrastructure problems that begin to arise,” Dr Webber told The New Daily.

“Budget airlines have very quick turn-around times, and pilots are under so much pressure to land to schedule, so there’s all these factors that are trying to achieve high utilisation to keep the costs down,” he said.

Lion air crash

Luggage recovered from the latest Lion Air crash site. Photo: ABC News/Anne Barker

He said if the latest Lion Air incident showed that if previous issues weren’t rectified with the doomed aircraft, then there would be dire consequences.

“If they show that this went down and that the earlier technical issue wasn’t rectified properly, then it’s going to raise several consequences for the airline as they have pushed safety down on its list of priorities,” he said.

Lion Air complaints

The New Daily found more than 400 complaints about Lion Air on travel websites such as Trip Advisor and Skytrax.

In April, one Lion Air passenger wrote on Skytrax: “This would have to be the worst airline that I have ever flown with. Our first check-in online at Jakarta had the flight on time, but alas the flight was delayed three hours, due to what they said was a technical fault”.

One Lion Air passenger wrote on TripAdvisor: “Almost every flight was delayed by two plus hours and on one occasion the pilot had to divert while in the air due to low visibility which was followed by an announcement saying we were also low on fuel”. 

The flight was severely delayed due to “operational reasons”. Over four hours late, with no precise information from the ground staff,” another wrote on TripAdvisor. 

Airline ratings

Skytrax rankings, based on a survey of 20.36 million travellers from more than 100 countries, covering more than 335 different airlines, only provided its personal star rating to five out of 14 Indonesian airlines.

Customers rated Garuda Airlines the best Indonesian airline, scoring it eight out of 10, with WingsAir, part of the Lion Group, rated the worst with two out of 10 stars.

The ratings measured 49 parameters, from boarding procedures to quality of service and seat comfort.

According to this year’s AirHelp Score report survey, Qatar Airways was voted the best airline in the world, with Iceland’s WOW Air scoring the lowest ranking of 72.

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