Ratings in air travel have always been controversial, but there is a new entrant to the market in times of the CoronaVirus, trying to encash on the keyword “safe travel”. I’d not paid heed to the “Safe Travel Barometer” till now, but a Twitter discussion yesterday caused me to go have a look at their website (Google it and you will find its website!). They had just launched the Safe Travel Barometer Safest Airlines list.
The Safe Travel Barometer claims that it is the World’s Largest and most comprehensive tool to monitor traveler safety, health and quarantine measures implemented by travel companies and destinations. Roger that.
Despite being based in Mumbai, they went with American English, perhaps to be more universally recognised. The STB claims to rate airlines, airports, destinations, hotel chains and other travel services for their safety, without ever setting foot inside them physically, just like India’s official CoVid-19 app can tell you if you are in a hotspot of CoVid-19 without a serious assessment. As per STB’s Disclaimer,
Information compiled from publicly available sources such as company statements, press releases, news articles. The owners and contributors of this website do not guarantee timely updates, accuracy or omissions of content due to the dynamic nature of COVID-19 environment and its impact on the travel industry.
Why are we writing about them today? It is because the website promised transparency, but we could not figure out how do things work. For instance, they put out new ratings on Indian airlines being safe and all, and I hopped over to the STB Dashboard to check. Notice the discrepancies.
There are many which stood out. First, they did not even have all Indian airlines mentioned in their Safe Travel Barometer Safest Airlines list. There is at least one domestic no-frills carrier, a couple of regional Indian airlines and one international no-frills carrier missing here. This is not an Opt-in study, where airlines have to answer detailed questionnaires to get information to this company. The data is from public sources, so for someone claiming to be an authority on ‘Safe travel’, this is inexcusable.
The more critical part. All airlines have the same health and hygiene protocols at the moment, which are as per DGCA Mandate, and yet their scores are vastly different. How can it be that when someone is doing a paper assessment of airlines on common-sized parameters, they get different ratings? Are invisible factors at work here? I am not sure because the methodology of how these ratings are arrived at is not clarified anywhere. Specialist organisations such as ACI’s Airport Service Quality methodology, which are still contested because they have too many categories, are based on user questionnaires captured immediately before or after travel.
That is not just the only issue with Safe Travel Barometer. Safety in aviation means different than Safety in Hotels which means different that safety at a destination. Safety in aviation means no expense is being spared to ensure the planes are fit to fly, the crew is trained and fit to respond to any situation, and there is a safe take-off and a safe-landing with all passengers and goods on board being safe during transport, simplistically speaking.
Also, while STB promises information updates daily, most of the information found on their website is wrong or dated.
Take, for example when I want to find out if it was safe to travel to the UAE. Err, it threw up status from months ago. I mean Indians are going to the UAE for tourism now, and there is no information about that there.
This is such an unreliable tool at the moment that I’d advise readers not to pay heed to these ratings at the moment. The reason for my concern is, there is no transparency or methodology involved in these ratings, but they have already jumped the gun at the moment to publish these ratings and position them with PR backing their efforts. For instance, they claim they are API ready, which means soon enough they will try and tell airlines and OTAs to publish these ratings on their website to indicate the safety of their products, ratings which should not be published at the moment in the first place. While what they should be in is an Alpha phase at the moment and finetune their product for now. Airlines of course, will use this number as a USP to attract business, but can we fault them to do their job of furthering their own interests?
Have you studied these ratings? Anything I miss in my assessment of how they are half baked at the moment? Or anything I forget to see in the bigger picture? What are your views on Safe Travel Barometer Safest Airlines list?
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