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Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17
Impact on Travel and Management
Automation and Technology Failures
The travel, aviation, transport, monitoring and service industries have all been evolving at a
rapid rate in recent years but much of it has been around automation, increased use of
technology and removing human costs, decision making or appearances of greater visual
stimulus. When a ‘fault’ appears, there is often no human in the process to manage nor correct,
merely a software patch, new code or expanded data set to be added. Systems that are fully
automated or totally technology based are susceptible to these realities and many consumers
have been unaware of this vulnerability, until now. More questions and accountability will be
A review of multiple information resources, systems and the like demonstrated this in full color.
A very popular travel and flight tracking app, available on smart phones still had the Malaysia
Airlines Flight MH17 as ‘on route’ in its visual display and flight notification boards several hours
after the incident, when clearly it was not. Consumers who had not seen the news certainly
would not have been alerted to the tragedy if solely reliant upon this app.
An international authority on aviation and international airline transport had nothing at all on
either the event, the flight or the airline. A lot of other ‘industry’ chatter and ‘news’ but nothing
about what is happening right now, what happened, how we should react or means to better
manage this risk.
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The inflight graphics, videos and related flight path displays continued to show the flight
continuation, long after it crashed. These are not real time systems or mechanisms with many
just pre recorded videos that play on a timeline consistent with the flights scheduled time of
departure and arrival. Many consumers are now starting to know the difference and it is likely a
mandatory disclaimer or notice will be required on these systems in the near future.
Foreign Affairs/Consular Support
Numerous governments have joined in condemning the act and offering support, to then turn
around and tell the entire country, “call a hotline”. They know your tax file number, where you
were born, your passport was issued by them yet they don’t know who is/isn’t affected and want
you to call in order to get the ball rolling.
Governments are not suited, structured nor for the most part aligned to help travellers with
minor or major issues that affect their travellers abroad. This includes this incident.
Little-by-little, citizens are learning this the hard way. Businesses, you should already know this
but if not, your faith was misplaced and you could be in at even greater risk because you failed
to identify this known fact and provide a better, more appropriate solution.
There has been a constant parade of political figures on all the media channels contributing
their opinion and support for bringing to justice the perpetrators. They have vowed not to rest,
serve justice and correct this wrong. Aren’t many of them the same ones that assured us that the
disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 would never happen again on their watch? Where
were they last week when the known threat was present or pushing via official channels to have
airlines not fly the route or support a resolution between Russia and Ukraine?
A complete lack of comprehension is plainly visible when you see a politician declaring a full
investigation and examination of the black box recording will be conducted, when YouTube
already has videos depicting looting, trophy collections, rummaging through the wreckage and
numerous other onlookers [including media] wandering through the crash site.
All of this has very little to do, nor will it impact, travel for business or leisure. The issues were
there before, and they are still there. What we all need to watch for is a run of random control
and over reactive response measures, such as demanding your mobile phone is charged and can
turn on before boarding a flight.
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Travel Health and Safety
If you can’t tick all these boxes, then you don’t have a “health and safety” system for travel, this
includes duty of care.
The Expert Explosion
How many opinions and experts have we all now seen on television, on the radio, online or
numerous other information/news channels? The previous MH370 incident saw a small burst of
random, newly anointed experts [some are experts, but in other unrelated fields] experts
providing commentary and insights into the event but with little useful or accurate insight into
“so what” or “what next”. In particular, what does this mean for travellers, travel managers, the
airline industry or service providers.
There will be another, this time more sustained, commentary and ‘expert’ contributions
campaign around the world. Little of it will have relevance to what will help travellers,
managers or businesses do in the wake of such an event and how that relates to practical,
achievable steps for non-government entities to handle this type of event and the travelling
With growing fragmentation in the news and media industry, most experts and available
commentary is more likely to originate from those that the news producer has in their contact
list, those that made a random, related comment sometime within the past 5 years about similar
events, those with the nearest comprehensible knowledge in a related field or very simply those
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that perform the best in front of a camera or during interview. None of which makes for useful
business decision making nor risk management strategy development or reform.
Information vs Intelligence
It is no secret that there has been mounting tensions and military operations in the area in
which the flight was allegedly targeted. It is no secret that military hardware and tactics
available within the area of conflict include surface to air capabilities. There is even prior
incidents of aircraft being targeted and engaged during the conflict. All this is information, but
the correlation that this could plausibly be used as a threat to commercial air movements, well
within the capability of these military units and ordinance, is a question of acting upon this
information, turning this process and recommendation into intelligence.
How many businesses have information resources? How many have intelligence resources? How
many have both that work together and provide both practical recommendations or better
understanding about the information that could then be used in a practical manner? This will be
a question for all businesses and travellers, not just to obvious military conflict areas but for all
travel in general. This has always been a requirement but it will likely get greater attention and
subsequent action as a result of this incident.
This is a shared responsibility. Was the route considered a risk in light of the recent civil war and
military operations that have been ongoing within the area? Was the airline, route or flight a
higher or lower risk for travellers or businesses than other alternate options? Could the risk not
only have been foreseen, but alternate mitigation or avoidance measures implemented?
These are all very basic questions that any reasonable person might assume but more and more
those that provide travel, those that manage travel and those that undertake travel will need to
apply this thought process time and time again before they undertake what could be an
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Travel Risk Management
If you can’t tick all these boxes, then you don’t have a “risk management” system for travel.
Commercial Decision Making
Airlines are commercial entities, set up and operating to make money. While there are varied
commitments and application to safety and security the commercial realities impact upon all
decision making, including operations. At some point, regardless of the events on the ground or
within the region, the option or decision to fly around or avoid this particular region of airspace
would have been overshadowed by the associated costs to apply a proactive risk mitigation in
the face of no historical evidence or guarantee of a negative event taking place. Therefore, it
would be cheaper and more cost effective to retain the standard route, rather than substitute it
for a higher cost route.
This is not the first time this has occurred, nor will it be the last but greater accountability and
correlation between these commercial, in isolation decision will be raised by governments,
investors and most certainly the travelling public.
Just because you can book an international flight online in a matter of minutes doesn’t mean the
provision of services is that cheap and easy. This remains a disconnect between travellers,
travel/risk managers and service providers.
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Before an airline can fly a particular route or service a particular destination, there is a myriad of
time consuming, political, commercial and expensive measures that must be met. Provision of an
aircraft, a trained crew, refueling capability, backend commercial support, integration with global
services, flyover approvals, diplomatic agreements, national and sovereignty sensitivities, tarmac
fees, operational synchronization, advertising to a commercial audience, continuous operational
support, cost per kilometer efficiencies, and the list goes on and on. None of which consumers
are aware of, nor care about, when they book the best price ticket online. All this only becomes
apparent, of how much it all has to ‘work’ in order to complete the task, until it all goes horribly
Travellers, travel/risk managers will be forced to better understand all of these elements, not in
the post-incident press release, but part of the shared risk and objective of enjoying incident
free, international travel.
Less-and-less people sit to watch the news exclusively. Less-and-less read the news online or in
print yet millions know about the incident and have been communicating about the facts,
theories, myths and sub plots since it occurred. There is significant noise surrounding this event
but few who need to know about it haven’t missed the news, no matter the channel in which it
Formal and informal channels are packed with content. Be wary of any and all information and
the advice that flows, it may not be as professional or accurate as you might think, or tainted
with subjective or emotional content. Very little is looking at the whole picture, with most
representing their own narrow vertical of the event, expertise or interest.
This is how news and information now flows around the world with events like this. It is no
longer social media, it is “personal and direct content” for publication and consumption.
Crisis Leadership and Management
Some of the very same people responsible for recent crisis leadership and management failures
are in charge again. Don’t expect a better result than last time.
The most effective and best results have been as a result of prepared responses, implementation
of prior plans, access to useful/effective networks and utility of all the resources at your
disposal. This has been complemented by continued monitoring of the events and improvement
of plans when opportunity or necessity presents.
Don’t forget, limit your actions to only those issues you need to respond to or service, don’t try to
solve everyone’s problems or chase a strategic objective that is not your own or inconsistent
with the immediacy of the issue/s.
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Advice to Travellers
Be better informed, prepared and make decisions based on the best available information at the
time. We don’t suggest you try and become a subject matter expert but at the very least broaden
your understanding and management of what appears to be a fast and convenient service,
Look at the practical and sequential elements of your journey and everything you do along the
way. Packing, commuting, airport, flying, arrival, etc. They all present risks, they all have options
and they are all a result of your choices and preparation. Each and every one of these stages
should have a broad or specific plan in the event of delay, disruption, injury, illness or worse.
Do not rely on your government to compensate for your own lack of preparedness or work
miracles because it is important to you or you/your family are affected.
Think it through, consider the consequences, explore your options, have a plan and review and
adjust as required. Not to mention, get support and advice if/when you need it.
Advice to Travel/Risk Managers
Did you include this in your risk register? Did you consider the impact of the localised conflict
upon air movements and commercial flights? Did you have any/all of this information at your
disposal when you booked/approved flights on this and related routes? Do you have a systematic
and compliant process for this decision making process? You are required to, not only by your
travelling personnel but also many legal jurisdictions.
There are multiple views, information sources, practical consideration and other influences
required when it comes to travel risk management. If you can’t demonstrated any/all of these
elements, regardless of what internal/external service provisions you think you might have, you
If you were able to forecast this or a related event, have an effective methodology for applying it
to every single traveller and journey, along with the ability to quickly and efficiently manage or
coordinate an incident such as this, in a location not schedule as part of the itinerary then you
most likely have an effective process and system. Be very cautious however of assuming that
what worked here, will work in all the other possible situations or circumstances in which you,
your business and travellers are exposed to risk.
The event is not just another news story. It is an event that has claimed human lives and has,
will affect a great many people.
Our sympathies are with those affected and the families without loved ones as a result of this
tragic event. We apologies if our analysis and observations cause distress for those affected but
there are a great many things that can be learnt from this incident and our aim is to provide
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advice and information to those that are struggling to understand the situation or have been
thrust into a world they know little about as result of this event. We also know that this will
happen again, in another format, place or set of circumstances and wish to shine a light on how
travellers, businesses, providers and governments can be better served addressing the threat and
responding to these issues in the future.
We inform and educate travellers on the specific threats and hazards associated with a particular
itinerary or destination. Next we evaluate the preparedness, treatment solutions or modifiers
established by the traveller or company’s risk management team. Finally, we provide risk
management advice, alternatives and resources to make informed decisions around travel risk.
Our approach to travel risk management is like no other. We comprehensively reference all the
relevant international conventions and risk management solutions, consolidate various
disciplines and technical methodologies for evaluating risk, then apply this superior model to
each and every individual’s itinerary, journey or travel plan.