Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?

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First published 17th May, 2006

Update: On 16 October 2013 a Lao Airlines flight from Vientiane to Pakse crashed. The following story is not about that crash, but we're following developments here.

You're in Chiang Mai and want to fly to Luang Prabang. Or, you are in Vientiane and want to visit Angkor Wat, but don't have the time to go overland and can't afford flying via Bangkok. There's the rub. Sometimes a Lao Airlines flight is the only way to get where you want to go in the time you have. But given the airline's bad reputation for safety, what do you do? How bad is it really?


It's probably not as bad as you think. First off, it's important to make a distinction between routes flying the French-built ATR-72's, and the routes serviced by the Chinese-built MA-6 aircraft. The ATR-72 is used on the international routes, such as from Vientiane to Bangkok or Siem Reap, Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, and on the main domestic link between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Lao Airlines has never had a crash involving an ATR-72, and even the ever-cautious US State Department recommends that travellers fly only in Lao aircraft certified for regular international routes, such as the ATR's.

In the past, Lao Airlines' domestic routes workhorse was the Chinese built Y-12, but these routes have largely been taken over by the larger and more modern MA-6. Yet even here, international safety records show that Lao Y-12 crash statistics are not as bad as their reputation might suggest. The airline, operating as Lao Aviation, has had a total of five crashes, three with fatalities, since 1990. In December 1993, a Y-12 crashed in fog, killing 18. In May 1998, a Yak-40 carrying a Vietnamese Military delegation crashed in a rainstorm, with 26 dead. Then in October 2000, a Y-12 crashed in bad weather near Sam Neua, with 8 dead. The most recent mishap was in February 2002 when a Y-12 was knocked over by high winds while taking off. There were no deaths in that incident.

The infamous Yak 12

Obviously, this safety record can't compare with Qantas, but it does compare favourably with other regional airlines, and also compares well with the safety risks associated with other means of travel in Laos, such as riverboat or overland trips. The US State Department's advice here is simple, telling travellers to avoid flying in mountainous areas and particularly in bad weather.

Over the past few years, Lao Airlines has been making an effort to clean up its image. In April 2002, it signed an agreement with Air France for technical assistance to improve all aspects of its operations. There have been no recorded safety incidents since then. It has also attracted foreign investors, with China Yunnan Airlines taking a 60% interest.

These efforts have paid off both in the air and on the ground, with the vast majority of recent passenger comments complimenting the helpful staff, well-organised ground crew, and good in-flight service. Many passengers go on to recommend the airline, and say that they'd fly it again.

A view worth flying Lao Aviation for

Take a look at Lao Airlines English-language website to check routes, schedules and fares. Sample one-way fares in September 2009 include Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang for US$100, Bangkok to Vientiane for $105, Luang Prabang to Bangkok for $126, and Vientiane to Siem Reap for $137. These fares do not include taxes or airport fees, and keep in mind that they charge airfares in US dollars. Also, not all flights are every day, so plan ahead. Perhaps best of all, Lao Airlines participates in the Discovery Airpass offered by Bangkok Airways. Check with your travel agent for details.

Ultimately, the decision on whether or not to fly Lao is yours. Could a crash happen with you on board? Absolutely. Will it? Probably not. At least now you'll be able to base your decision on facts rather than hearsay. See you up there.

story by Mark Foley, aka exacto



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Read 51 comment(s)

  • I looked at Lao Airlines website and have a question about the Vientiane-Xieng Khuang Route and would appreciate feedback if you know the answer. I don't understand the Days column (i.e. 13,24,etc). What do the numbers mean?

    Posted by Bill Howard on 2nd December, 2008

  • The numbers refer to the day of the week -- I assume 1 is Monday, 2 is Tuesday, 7 is Sunday etc.

    Posted by somtam2000 on 2nd December, 2008

  • Thanks for the helpful article. It is not dated. Is it recent ? Also how do you recommend bookings are made. I don't seem to be able to get the website to accept bookings. I have tried using both Safari and Firefox.
    Although the timetable lists a daily 10am flight from Vientiane to Siem Reap, the website only lists one at 06.30. Do you know if the other flight has been discontinued.
    Many thanks for any responses.

    Posted by MaGabriel on 10th December, 2008

  • Hi i am also having trouble getting the website to accept my payment. Keeps coming up error cannot finalise external payment
    Has anybody had success

    Posted by lisa on 3rd January, 2009

  • The girls and i went on a trip to Cambodia and Laos and flew Lao Airlines. I would confidently say that i would never fly them again and would not let anyone i know fly them. we were delayed for 6 hours due to technical faults and eventually had to get a new plane. if we had known our lives were in danger would never had got on that flight. worst landing ever - the plane landed at a nose-dive lob-sided. do not fly this airline.

    Posted by DebbieSk on 21st January, 2009

  • Modern, clean plane, ok seats. Amazing service, amazing smiles. Lao Airlines has come to par with regional airlines anywhere in the western world in terms of safety and efficiency but maintains a service, which is truly Asian.

    Posted by Vansana on 21st February, 2009

  • I have flown Lao air twice.
    -DebbieSK
    I don't know how much you air travel, but can you honestly say you've never been delayed. Why did you think your life was in danger? Just because they had mechanical issues and had to change out planes? Again, you don't think this happens in the US? Seriously, stop being so melodramatic. Have you ever flown on a small prop plane before? They don't normal "coast" in like a Boeing or Airbus because they are much more affected my the weather.

    Let me guess, you stayed in western hotels, traveled by big tour buses and never got off the "beaten path" during your travels? Which is a shame because you wasted all that money and didn't even get to see the real Cambodia and Laos. Riding a tuk tuk, eating at street food carts, and walking along the Mekong River on a "dirt path" from village to village (because there are no roads connecting them) is the way to see these aweinspiring countries.

    I flew Lao Air from Chang Mai to Luang Prabang and then also from Luang Prabang down to Siem Reap with no problems at all. Excellent service and clean planes.

    I found the easiest way to book these flights is to book them from whereever you are departing from. So for example if you are staying in Chang Mai or Bangkok prior to your flight, talk to your hotel and have them purchase your tickets for you. You typically only need a day or two advance notice.

    Lastly, if you have flown on western airlines, you will be shocked and amazed by this airline. For such a small airline, the planes are extremely clean and the service is unbelievable. US carriers could learn a lot from airlines operating in southeast Asia Plus, you get a box meal/snack on every flight (much better tasting than any US carrier). Please don't let a snobby, melodramatic westerner give off a poor image of this airline.

    Posted by InMySeoul on 25th February, 2009

  • InMySeoul - your comments are a bit harsh and show your view of other cultures. I wouldn't put you in the "open minded traveller" camp which you no doubt claim to be in. If you have ever been in a scary situation in an airplane, no matter how trivial it may seem when it's over, it is very frightening when you are up in the air. Also, it's a bit rich to be on your high horse about avoiding the beaten path when you yourself are taking flights rather than the boat, etc. DebbieSK, thanks for the advice, though I think we may still fly it judging from the rest of the comments. Thanks!

    Posted by S45 on 1st March, 2009

  • We have flown Lao on two occasions: Dec 08, VTE--LPQ and Dec 06, REP--LPQ without incident of any sort. Clean, efficient and, as far as I could tell, safe. I must admit, contrary to one of the other posts, the food did not appeal to me; short flights so who needs to eat anyhow. However, the web site for ticket purchase can sometimes be a challenge. That said, I have always been able to complete, purchase and print the e-ticket; never a problem with Lao Air honouring the e-ticket at the airport. UA and the other US domestic carriers should take customer service training from Lao; US domestic carriers these days seem to be the worst.

    Posted by mkelly139 on 11th March, 2009

  • Unfortunately I am caught with very little time to go overland between Cambodia > Laos > Thailand. I was wondering how people have booked flights through this airline before? When I click on the "Book Now" button nothing happens. It doesn't link to anything...

    Also, are these flights cheap (under 80 US)? If they are very expensive it might be more worth it to take an extra day to travel overland...

    I have sent them an e-mail asking for the prices but haven't received a reply, any help would be greatly appreciated!!

    Posted by Ari on 23rd April, 2009

  • Ari,

    Price varies depending on route. See this thread on the messageboard for more information, and a discussion of reservation issues.

    Posted by somtam2000 on 23rd April, 2009

  • Do any of you have suggestions on how to go from Bangkok to Luang Prabang? I plan to go next month and only have a little time, so I need to fly. I have checked Bangkok Airways and their price is pretty reasonable -- not so cheap though, but I couldn't check Lao Airlines website. Just as Ari said above, when I clicked "Book Now" nothing happened...

    Posted by Olen on 13th May, 2009

  • Hi - I have been trying to book online with Laos Airlines, and am also having difficulty. Often I can get past the 'book now' button, but lately I have been getting a message asking me to contact them by email if I am booking on my credit card for more than one person, even if I enter it as only 1 passenger. So I sent an email, but it has been rejected. Sigh ... keep trying.

    Is it possible, and is it cheaper than US$210, to book the flight 4 days ahead in Siem Reap?

    Also, beware of the other website www.laos-airlines.com, which is not the official Lao Airlines site but belongs to a company with its HO in Paris. Have heard tickets issued by this company are not honored by Laos Airlines.

    Posted by Denise on 26th May, 2009

  • I have just successfully booked and paid for domestic flights on the (official!) Lao Airlines website - and I received email confirmation AND the e-tickets within minutes.

    Fingers crossed...!

    Posted by Carl on 30th May, 2009

  • Hi - well, sometimes the website doesn't work properly i guess ...
    but you can always purchase your ticket in the airport. for example at Suvannaphum airport there is a ticket counter for Lao airlines. I did that last time i flight with Lao airlines.

    and welcome to Laos :)

    Posted by Latsa on 15th June, 2009

  • i have booked a ticket online at laoairlines.com using someones elses credit card and am having dificulty sending the email confirming permision for the purshase from the card holder as requested by the site. does anyone have any experience or advice??

    Posted by kent on 2nd July, 2009

  • I agree with the story. I've lived in the area for a while and travelled on Laos airlines several times, and yes, I would fly again... but only on the main touristic routes.
    I got so scared on the Ventiane/Kunming (China) route, flying on an old plane, amazingly noisy, that I changed for China Eastern to return.

    For bookings, Lao Airlines website is a disaster... still not improving.
    People who make a stop-over in Bangkok can book ahead with a local travel agency (Exotissimo travel for ex. is reliable) and you'll get the tickets upon arrival. Easier and safer !

    Posted by coco on 2nd July, 2009

  • Flown several times with Lao Airlines on Savannakhet-Bangkok and Bangkok-Vientiane on their MAC-60 (Chineses version of the ATR-72). Efficient service, friendly cabin crew and clean plane. No worries over safety. And their schedule suits my needs better.

    Posted by Smudge on 11th July, 2009

  • for website bookings try IE instead of safari/firefox. for whatever reason, it works fine with IE (though slightly bumpy at times) but not at all with safari/firefox.

    Posted by moonwire on 16th August, 2009

  • If you happen to be in Vientiane, there is a Laos Airlines office. I booked my flight (to Chang Mai) there, and surprisingly it was even cheaper than on the website, let alone any tourist agent in town.

    The flight was one of the most bumpiest I ever had. Safe in my experience, though.

    Posted by hokasch on 21st August, 2009

  • As I was planning all my domestic flights in Laos I read this bit and got a bit nervous. However as I rechecked all the flights I was hoping to take I see that all the domestic flights were on the ATR-72. I checked a bunch of other domestic routes out of curiosity and I can only find the ATR-72. But as our government Foreign Ministry (Dutch) advises not flying on the Y12 due to poor maintenance you should always look at the flight details I guess to see what equipment is used.

    Posted by lennybruce on 27th August, 2009

  • I've booked a flight from SIN to BKK via SQ and then connecting from BKK to PKZ.
    Does anyone know whether a visa is needed or if you just stay within transit area?

    I've allowed 2 hours and hope this is sufficient to get from one flight to the other.

    Anyone with info on connecting flight is much appreciated!

    Posted by Cpertuti on 2nd October, 2009

  • We just did Vientiane-LuangPrabang-Vientiane over the weekend. VTE-LPQ on Oct 2 was with a brand new ATR72, while the return trip on Oct 5 was with the MA60. Flights were on-time and pleasant. Friendly service, no problem, will fly them again.

    Posted by naim on 8th October, 2009

  • Did several Flights with Lao Airlines, and in 2005 even a short Flight with the Yarbin Y12, which i remember very good!

    I think the airline is doing a pretty good job in this little but interesting country. I like to fly them whenever I travel in the region!

    The Y12 is since 2006 retired, so relax about old Airplanes. They use now 2 MA60, which is a Passenger Version of the Antonov 24, and 3 ATR 72, of which 2 new will be delivered before the end of the Year.

    Posted by mathias on 17th October, 2009

  • Please see these entries in my blog regarding the Vientiane-LuangPrabang Lao Airlines flights:

    http://m.naim.my/vientiane-to-luang-prabang-with-lao-airlines/

    http://m.naim.my/luang-prabang-and-back-to-vientiane/

    Thanks!

    Posted by naim on 18th October, 2009

  • Does anyone have updated info on Pakse airport?
    Will this complete by mid November?

    Posted by cpertuti on 18th October, 2009

  • You better check that Pakse info real good as I have heard from a very good tour operator in Laos that the new opening date target is sometime in January 2010.

    Posted by lennybruce on 23rd October, 2009

  • I have heard from a traveller who flew into Pakse airport last week. So can confirm it is open.

    Posted by Andy Jarosz on 19th November, 2009

  • I flew Laos airline from Chiangmai to Luang prabang, about half way to Luagn prabang suddenly the plane drop about 100' I was shock to dead. Since that day I never flew it again.

    Posted by wong on 6th December, 2009

  • You can hardly blame an airline for an airpocket. I assume if it was due to mechanical failure or pilot error, you would have mentioned that salient detail. This fall I flew 5 segments with Laos Airline and each one was perfectly fine.

    Posted by Leonard on 6th December, 2009

  • Just returned from Laos a few days ago. All Laos airline flight went well and in fact, left early on some occasions. It is impt to get to check-in earlier despite the fact you have e-ticket. I understand sometimes the airline will sell your seat if you don't show up within the hour of flight departure time.
    Flights were all good - flew under 20000' most times so take-off and landing pretty smooth.
    Do note planes are small, so overhead bins are really tiny. If you bring 22' carry-on, they will check it at gate. You'll also have to walk onto tarmac to board the plane.

    Posted by cpertuti on 7th December, 2009

  • If you want to book Lao Airlines the easiest way, just do it through www.laos-airtickets.com. It is a real Bangkok based Sales Agent for Lao Airlines. The website is easy. You must pay by PayPal. After payment you get your e-tickets without any problem. Overall transaction time from reservation request until getting the etix: aboaut 4 days. Fare is about 10 USD higher than the published on Lao Airline's web site.

    I made good experience.

    Posted by bayerwolf on 20th December, 2009

  • We flew Lao Airlines on the LPQ>HAN route twice in Spring 2009. Great equipment and absolutely no problems (discounting the cockroach crawling up the wall just before take-off :)

    I find the US State Dept. warning not to fly Lao Airlines over mountainous areas amusing. Pretty well excludes flying over Lao at all, wouldn't you say?

    Posted by Archmichael on 2nd January, 2010

  • They did the job very nicely on a trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane; professional in every respect and they did not seem to resent actually having passengers on board, as is the case with many airlines in the west. Would not hesitate to fly with them again over major routes. Cannot vouch for the regional services.

    Posted by Poiter on 27th January, 2010

  • Has anyone else used the www.laos-airtickets.com website? Am looking to book a flight from siem reap to luang prabang and the laoairlines official website seems to have removed all cambodia locations from the origin section.... makes it difficult to book! However the laos-airtickets website still has the flight, just not sure if it's a safe website...

    Posted by ricardo on 3rd March, 2010

  • Don't use this site:
    www.laos-airtickets.com
    Your tickets may not be honoured by Lao Airlines as this is a bigus French site masquerading as an official agent, with affiliates in Thailand.

    Posted by Rufus on 14th March, 2010

  • I flew laos airlines multiple times on my trip this year and thought they were a completely safe ad really well run airline, had absolutely no problems. plus it does state on their lunch boxes "your safe with us" how can you not trust that....

    Posted by snarp on 7th April, 2010

  • I flew with Lao Airlines twice in 2009. From Bangkok to Vietianne, and from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai. With the bad rep i was a bit concerned but after the first flight i felt completely confident to fly with them again. The planes were in good condition and the staff were excellent. Laos is such a beautiful place that the reward you get when stepping of the plane out weighs the risk of flying with them. And to be honest ive had a much scarier time flying with ryanir lol.

    Posted by Darren on 6th May, 2010

  • Darren, what bad "rep"? This information is years old and they have been safe to fly with for a long time now. You are quoting information that is about 10 years old.

    Posted by Rufus on 6th May, 2010

  • I booking from laos-airtickets website and receive e-ticket like other agency but i can save my money

    Posted by Justin on 13th May, 2010

  • Hi, I've lived and worked in Vientiane for four years, and fly Lao Airlines often, both domestic and international. Both the AT72 and the MA60s are fine, and serve the main destinations. I would be cautious about flying the smaller aircraft though.

    Posted by VTE resident on 24th May, 2010

  • I flew Laos airlines this year (2010) from Vientiane to Hanoi Vietnam. I had heard all the stories about the safety but the choice was that and a 24 hour bus ride considered one of the worst in the world.

    The ticket was $130 US bought in Vientiane the day before. The plane was extremely clean and actually looked brand new! The service was great, the food was the tastiest I've ever had on a plane.

    The ride was completely unproblematic, with a solid take off and landing rarely experienced here in Canada. I would recommend this route to anybody as I was eating Pho in Hanoi within a couple hours thinking about how terrible that bus ride would have been had I chickened out and gone that route. Best travelling decision I made the entire three months of backpacking.

    Happy travels!

    Posted by RyanT on 28th July, 2010

  • Hi there,

    It is possible to buy a Discovery Airpass at Bangkok Airways. It is much cheaper!
    We this coupon the maximum is 6 flights and minium is 3 flights. You can use this coupon for domestic and international flights. Perfect if you want to visit Thailand, Laos en Cambodja in a short time.

    Posted by Maud on 29th July, 2010

  • In addition to safety, Lao airlines is rife with theft and pilferage. The x-ray handlers look for valuables and then telephone their friends in the baggage handling department. The theft occurs when they are loading your bags on the plane, or on the destination end when your bags come off. There is absolutely nothing you can do as they will not "lose face" by admitting a problem or initiating an investigation. I had a major loss due to theft, and all I got was the classic "blame the victim." So, yes, as always, take anything valuable on the plane with you, and if you accidentally place something in your checked bag or decide to trust them, you will pay for it with your stuff. Then they will rub it in for how stupid your are.

    Posted by Dustin on 18th April, 2011

  • "The x-ray handlers look for valuables and then telephone their friends in the baggage handling department."

    Do they? How do you know this? I have flown over thirty flights with Lao Airlines and had never had anything stolen. Lao are generally very honest. At Swampy in Thailand, on the other hand....

    Posted by Rufus on 19th April, 2011

  • I have mainly had this problem on VTE-Xiengkhouang-VTE flights. I am a long time resident of Vientiane, Laos, speak fluent Lao, and yes I too agree that the Lao are generally very honest. This does not mean they are immune to temptation, don't have alcoholics and drug addicts desperate for money, and don't see westerners as easy faceless victims. I recently escorted a team of international doctors for a humanitarian project in XK and five out of sixteen of them had items pilfered, including myself. On the return, three people had items pilfered. Some of the pilferage was so precise and specific that it could only have been done by someone who could see into the bag. A well connected employee of ours made some inquiries with relatives who work behind the scenes at Lao Air, and he explained that they know what is going on and who is doing it, and yes, it is the x-ray operator, but since Lao culture is so non confrontational, nobody will do anything about it since it doesn't directly affect them, and there is no mode by which it could result in prosecution. We asked to file a formal complaint and they told us there is no avenue for that. So now we are working with the national police to make a formal inquiry, since Lao air has done nothing to correct the problem internally, and they won't even take a report.
    You might think that my comments and experience are just anecdotal, but so are yours. The bottom line is, take precautions, and realize you are never safe and may not have recourse. Since I am the one dealing with this situation personally, I will continue to warn as many people as I can in an effort to shame Lao air into doing something to protect customers (at least making up a report form). The threat of losing face seems to be the only thing that works around here.

    Posted by Dustin on 24th April, 2011

  • I flew Lao from Vientiane to Pakse to avoid the 18hr bus journey, which, would be fraught with mudslides anyway!!

    They were extremely efficient, friendly and clean. The in-flight meal of sandwiches; cake & fruit was very fresh indeed, and, the coffee was nice & strong. Put it this way, it was better than BA domestic!! I'd fly Lao again any day of the week, i cant say that about BA....

    Posted by Natalie on 9th July, 2011

  • Lao Airlines has just taken possession of an A320 Airbus. I flew on thi last week - great plane.

    Posted by Rufus on 23rd November, 2011

  • I am a regular traveler to Laos and have 100% confidence on the clean modern aircraft of Lao Airlines. Ive used Vietnam air too but there aircraft appear older; service and food is not so good.
    Airports are very o;d world but in Oct 2011 Luang Prabang opened a new runway giving a smoother landing.

    Posted by peaceofangkor on 26th November, 2011

  • We were on one of the two brand new A320s last week and it was one of the best planes I have been on - squeaky clean, individual TV, friendly crew and a smooth landing, although the flight was delayed by 1 hour without any announcement at all. I did notice, however, that there were some older aircrafts - so you may want to check before booking the tickets.

    Posted by AW on 9th January, 2012

  • Over last 4 years have taken many Lao Airlines flights.Generally from Vientiane to LP and from LP to Chiang Mai.Also Siem Reap to Vientiane.have booked on line.Never had a problem.

    Posted by B Kehoe on 12th August, 2012

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