How to Prepare for a Worst-Case Travel Disaster
As terrifying, frustrating and downright horrible as it sounds, we may never find out exactly why Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared.
While Malaysia's prime minister recently announced that the airline went down in the southern Indian Ocean, this generic revelation of location does little to answer the many questions we all have. Why did the airline fly off course? Who orchestrated the disappearance? How could various radar systems fail to perceive a Boeing 777 aircraft? And perhaps most importantly, how can we all do our very best to make sure that we're never involved in such a freakish disaster?
When thinking about this troubling situation, I'm reminded of the European explorers from hundreds of years ago: Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal, Sir Francis Drake of England and, of course, Christopher Columbus, the Italian who explored for Spain. They were, in my opinion, yesteryear's equivalent of today's business travelers. Armed with goods, ideas and specific instructions on behalf of their countries, the explorers of the Age of Discovery set sail to discover lands unknown to Europeans. Some were never seen again. And yet, the period of exploration continued for hundreds of years, with expeditions setting out from various countries in every direction imaginable.
Today, while we may have a comprehensive map of the world drawn out, and little, if any, land remains unclaimed on the globe, the spirit of exploration is still present. From a managing partner on a multi-leg international trip seeking to acquire new business for her company, to a road warrior business traveler on a recurring monthly trip to check out a branch of his organization, to leisure travelers exploring Machu Picchu on a backpacking trip, the world has much to offer to those of us who are willing to travel.
And while accidents are inevitable, there is much to be gained from exploring.
And yet, people are still scared. At my company alone, travel consultants are reporting a number of travelers who are refusing to book international tickets that connect through, or even go near, Kuala Lumpur. Additionally, some travelers have had trips on Malaysian Airlines cancelled and rebooked exclusively on domestic carriers. But avoidance is not necessarily a sustainable long-term solution. So, what can you do in the face of Malaysian Flight 370 to better prepare yourself for a worst-case scenario?
1. Be calm.
While a flight that's disappeared off the grid can seem terrifying and like a good reason for a staycation, if you stop and consider that you have a greater risk of drowning, being in a car accident or of being accidentally poisoned than you do of being in an airplane accident, it might seem less so. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is the exception to safe air travel--not the rule. While we might want to exercise caution in traveling to certain parts of the world, for the most part our skies are safe and thousands of air travelers get from point A to point B every day without a hiccup.
2. Invest in information.
Many travel management companies offer what we call "risk management" or "duty of care" services to our clients. These services typically include traveler tracking and pre-trip and post-trip security reporting to subscribers and are available through companies like iJet, iSOS and Anvil. Whether you're a CEO of a multinational corporation or the owner of a regional business with two global travelers, a strategic and solidly founded risk management program is the difference between knowing where your people are, and losing track of them during any type of disruptive incident. Prices vary for these services, but being in the know is priceless in my opinion.
3. Have a good travel agent.
From a flight being cancelled, to a volcanic ash cloud, out-of-control hurricane, devastating blizzard or--now--global suspicion surrounding a missing airplane on a particular airline, calling a travel agent for travel-related assistance is like calling 911 during a medical emergency. It just makes sense. If you were experiencing lightheadedness when walking around, you would call your doctor and schedule an appointment ASAP. You wouldn't go on WebMD, write a few things down and hope for the best. The same is true for travel-related emergencies. While you may be good at what you do professionally, if you're not a travel agent, you are not best-equipped to handle a travel emergency for yourself. Trust me on this: Leave it to the professionals.
PAUL METSELAAR | Columnist | CEO and chairman
Paul Metselaar founded what is now Ovation Travel Group in 1984, filling a void in the corporate travel market by providing specialized service to law firms. Today, Ovation is one of the largest corporate travel management companies in the U.S., serving more than 700 companies in a variety of industries, including law, financial services, and entertainment.