The airlines that have never had a single crash
Remember the famous scene in Rain Man during which Dustin Hoffman’s character refuses to fly by any airline other than Qantas on the basis of its impeccable safety record? You probably won’t if you watched it on a plane: the scene was cut from one version shown in the skies over fears that it might alarm passengers (Qantas, of course, stuck to the original).
Fast forward 35 years and the airline is still renowned for safety. After a brief hiatus in 2022, when it slipped from first to seventh place in airlineratings.com’s respected safety rankings to be temporarily replaced by Air New Zealand, Qantas has once again nabbed the number one spot for 2023.
It’s worth noting that, despite being among the safest to fly, neither airline has completely avoided fatal disasters in the past (Qantas had a handful in the pre-jet era, while Air New Zealand’s happened in 1979 when a DC-10-30 crashed during a sightseeing flight over Antarctica). It shows that historical crashes aren’t the best way to measure safety – the airlineratings.com survey only takes into account fatalities in the last five years, alongside government audits, incident reports and more.
“We worked with the International Civil Aviation Organization, the governing body,” says airlineratings.com Editor-In-Chief Geoffrey Thomas. “And the rationale was that a five-year period is an acceptable period for the airline to learn from the mistake, rectify the systems that contributed to the mistake, and then come out the other side and say, ‘look, we learned from that and we’ve moved on’.”
Meanwhile, our table of airlines that have never had a fatal crash (see below), compiled with data from airsafe.com, includes Novair – banned from EU and UK airspace along with all other Armenian carriers due to concerns over the country’s aviation safety record. Then there’s IndiGo, an Indian low-cost carrier that’s allegedly reported 35 serious incidents since 2013.
“If an airline is banned from the EU or banned by the Americans, it’s automatically downgraded,” says Thomas. “We look at the black lists and it very much forms part of our audit process. No airlines that are blacklisted by the EU will appear on our safest airlines list.”
As for other carriers with no accidents, “it can be sheer luck,” says Thomas. “You might have an airline that’s just started up, they’ve got one aeroplane, and, hey, ‘we’re the safest airline in the world’.”
Whoever you fly with, the chances of being involved in a fatal crash are very low. In 2018, the Aviation Safety Network calculated the likelihood of an airline having such a disaster at around one in 2.52 million. In 2022, there were five fatal accidents on planes with 14 or more passengers according to aviation-safety.net, including one in March that killed all 132 people onboard when a Boeing 737-800 operated by China Eastern nosedived into the Guangxi mountains.
Shortly afterwards, the Wall Street Journal published an article suggesting that preliminary assessment reports by US officials indicated that the crash was intentional, but this kind of foul play is highly unusual. Often, tragic disasters happen during internal flights in countries such as Nepal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where planes can be so old that they lack modern GPS systems and pilots have to rely on weather stations for reports on conditions.
However, for the ultra-cautious, we’ve taken a look at the airlines which make both the airlineratings.com top 20 (or its top 10 of low-cost airlines) and have never had any fatal crashes or hull losses. The added bonus? Most of them operate flights from the UK.
The safest airlines in the skies?
When this airline regained the number one spot in its safety rankings for 2023 after a brief hiatus, airlineratings.com’s editors noted that, “over its 100-year operational history the world’s oldest continuously operating airline has amassed an amazing record of firsts in operations and safety and is now accepted as the industry’s most experienced airline”. Not one to rest on its laurels, Qantas continues to embrace new technologies in order to make its planes even safer.
In 2022, the company ordered 52 new aircraft including some ultra-long-range Airbus A350-1000s which will enable passengers to fly non-stop between London and Australia from 2025. Though older planes are generally safe when properly maintained, newer ones benefit from the latest onboard safety equipment and navigational systems.
Voted among the top 10 safest low-cost providers by airlineratings.com, EasyJet hasn’t had a fatal crash or hull loss since it first took off in 1995. However, in 2019 it did have a near-miss after both pilots used the wrong measurements to calculate the runway length at Lisbon Airport, averting disaster by just 1.3 seconds according to a report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
The UK’s other big-name low-cost carrier Ryanair also scores well in the safety stakes, despite an incident in 2008 when a huge flock of starlings at Rome-Ciampino caused both engines to stall, prompting a hard touchdown that led to passenger and crew injuries and the plane being written off.
Running since 1929, Hawaiian is among the oldest airlines in the world but, remarkably, it has never suffered a single fatal crash or hull loss. Ploughing the skies between Hawaii, Australia, Asia and the US mainland, it still remains one of the safest carriers in the skies, coming in at number 12 in the airlineratings.com survey. Having lived through a World War and almost a century of continuous service, the airline didn’t let the little matter of two bankruptcies in ten years (between 1993 and 2013) get in the way of its impeccable record. However, in December 2022, at least 36 people were injured (11 of them seriously) when one of the airline's planes experienced turbulence as it came in to land in Honolulu. The USA's National Transportation Safety Board is launching an investigation into the incident.
The longest running UK commercial airline never to have suffered a fatal crash or hull loss is Richard Branson’s baby, born in 1984 – while its sister company Virgin Australia also has a clean slate. Remarkably, the airline has also only had 17 serious incidents in its near 40-year history according to research by id1.de (for comparison, EasyJet has clocked up 51). Having ditched its all-makeup-and-no-tattoos rules, Virgin is a progressive choice too. Simple Flying reported that job applications to the airline have doubled since it introduced a gender-neutral uniform policy in 2022.
It may not make for the most comfortable ride, but Wizz Air’s safety record is seriously impressive. Since its launch in 2004, it’s avoided any crashes that have caused fatalities or damage to its hull – and it beat Virgin Atlantic in commercial aviation safety analyst JACDEC’s Airline Safety Risk Rankings for 2021, coming in a respectable 24th place (though rival EasyJet was 13th).
Against a background of industry cutbacks and airline closures, Wizz is bucking the trend with significant expansion across Europe. However, in 2022, three anonymous pilots raised concerns over working hours, low pay and morale to The Mirror, with one saying that long shifts could have an impact on safety (the airline categorically rejected the claims).
Partly because of the differing treatment of pilots between low-cost and traditional carriers, airlineratings.com groups them separately in its rankings. “We take the view that a low-cost airline will not pay the highest salaries for pilots. It’s not necessarily the case with all low-cost airlines because there are some terrific ones but, as a generalisation, if you’re a pilot, who would you rather fly for? ‘Low-cost airline number one’ or Qantas? You’d like to fly for Qantas, because you get paid a lot more.”
With routes to south-east Asia, Japan, South Korea and China, Taiwan’s EVA Air is not only crash free – it also scores five stars for customer experience in Skytrax’s certified ratings scheme which measures service excellence. Founded in 1989, the carrier has a full 7/7 safety score from airlineratings.com. Its relatively small size (it has 85 aircraft) may help – but even the safest airlines have their moments: witness EVA’s 2021 incident when passengers on a flight from Taipei to Guam got a shock during a baulked landing. Though the plane reascended before landing safely 20 minutes later, it was subsequently grounded for inspection according to the Aviation Herald.
With the most serious incident to have occurred onboard allegedly being particularly bad turbulence, Qatar is another safe bet. Having one of the youngest fleets in the skies helps. “We look at the age of the fleet for our ratings,” says Thomas. “It’s not perfect because if Qantas is looking after a 25-year-old aeroplane, you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be in perfect condition. But typically, the younger airplanes like the A350 and the 787 have all the safety features as standard.”
Qatar’s CEO Akbar al Baker is “at the forefront of demanding from aircraft manufacturers, the very best in technology and the very best in designs” says Thomas. But it’s not all been plain sailing: a 2017 blockade by Saudi Arabia and its allies (including the UAE) meant that Qatar Airways had to make prolonged detours from key Middle Eastern routes until 2021.
Etihad came second in JACDEC’s Airline Safety Risk Rankings for 2021 after Emirates (which doesn’t make our list of accident-free airlines due to a 2016 crash-landing that resulted in a hull loss and the death of a firefighter). It’s also one of the most hygienic carriers out there, achieving the highest Diamond rating in the APEX health safety certification scheme which is built on airline audits. In October 2022, it made the news for other reasons when it upped the cost to bring a cat onboard to around £1,300pp while falcons (the UAE’s national bird) continue to get a free ride.
Other airlines with no fatal crashes
Using data from airsafe.com, these are the 49 major airlines never to have experienced a fatal accident (excludes carriers whose parent company has experienced fatalities):
Arkia Israel Airlines
Azul Brazilian Airlines
Sun Country Airlines
Viva Air Colombia