Carry on: How safe is it to travel in Asia?

Flight MH370 (TVNZ)
Korean ferry Sewol
Allergy-free pillows on Swiss
Gluten-free rolls on Swiss

Two Asian travel tragedies that have claimed more than 500 lives have exposed major deficiencies, incompetence and lack of transparency in the handling of transport issues.

So far, few commentators have linked the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 (239 people) and the sinking of South Korean ferry Sewol (146 dead and 156 still missing) with political, cultural and economic characteristics. Nor have travel industry authorities admitted any public loss of confidence in their services that should follow.

The latest word from Korea is that Chonghaejin Marine Co is being investigated for “overall corruption in management” and possible charges range from criminal negligence to tax evasion and embazzlement. In most countries this would be considered overkill but it may reflect local knowledge that such companies run close the wind when it comes to public safety. Of course, much of the post-event inquiry should also involve onboard issues that revealed a lack of safety features, inappropriate crew responses and unnecessary loss of life.

In Malaysia, the reasons why a large jetliner can just disappear without trace have already revealed lack of boarding checks (no monitoring of false passports), shortcomings in basic equipment used in tracking aircraft and an absence of collaboration or cooperation among military and civil aviation authorities. It doesn’t help the airline is already in deep financial trouble and majority owned by a government that is run on racial lines and corrupt on many counts.

Bloomberg columnist William Pesek is one commentator who has addressed these issues in both tragedies. He blames Korea’s “quick-quick culture and a government that remains obsessed with bureaucracy, hierarchy and turf.” Wise travellers need to consider these issues in both countries – as well as elsewhere in Asia and around the world – in making decisions.

Swiss goes allergy-free in air and on ground
Swiss International Air Lines is making it easier for allergy sufferers to travel. It is introducing alternative (lactose- and gluten-free) food and drinks in its lounges as well as on board. Changes are also being made to cabin interiors.    

First and Business Class passengers will be offered pillows stuffed with synthetic materials as an alternative to the down-filled version. Swiss is also ceasing its use of decorative flowers and air fresheners that might cause nose and throat irritations; and the on-board toilets will now feature soaps that are particularly gentle on the skin.

Anzac centenary fares to Gallipoli
Cathay Pacific has released a range of fares to assist the almost 2000 New Zealanders who were lucky enough to be chosen in the ballot to attend next year’s centenary of the Gallipoli landings in Turkey.

The fares are from Auckland to Istanbul with travel on Cathay Pacific and a range of other airlines including Alitalia, British Airways, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways. Routes include stopvers in Europe (for example, London, Frankfurt and Rome) as well via Doha (Qatar).

The fares are for business, premium economy and economy class seats and are only for departures from April 6 to April 24, 2015. Tickets must be purchased by August 31, 2014. The airline warns seats are limited and may not be available on all flights.

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