What is YOUR risk tolerance?

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Yesterday, my social media and personal email lit up with messages from friends and family – “you need to change your flight”.  You see, I’m in the middle of planning my next big vacation where I will spend twelve nights traveling by ship from Singapore to Bali and visiting many Indonesian ports.  Most of my air travel to and from Asia will be on Cathay Pacific.  But two of my upcoming regional flights are on Malaysia Airlines, one on a 777.  Many of them were insistent – “you can’t fly Malaysia Airlines anymore – it’s not safe”.  Others were more spooked by the regional proximity of my travels both in the recent past and near future – the same voices who view a majority of the travel I do as “unsafe”.  In all of these emails and messages, a vocalization of the question that many frequent travelers find ourselves asking ourselves – “what is MY level of personal risk tolerance?”

Eastern Europe MH 17

Eastern Europe and the Ukranian region where Malaysia 17 was shot down.

Those who engage in risk management assessment professionally will advise that it’s important to have an assessment model to gauge risks.

There is risk in everything – getting out of bed in the morning and walking into the kitchen carries a certain degree of hazard (will you slip and fall on the way? will there be an intruder in the kitchen waiting to bludgeon you? will you burn your mouth with your first cup of hot coffee?) and as humans, we are programmed to be thinking about the risks.  Ignore all of them and you may be at a greater risk of harm.  Avoid all of them and you will likely live a fearful timid life as an agoraphobic.

That personal model multiplies when it comes to travel as more variables are out of personal control.  And yet every travel plan requires some personal assessment of risk.  Will I get from Point A to Point B in a safe and timely manner? is always the question at the top of my mind.  But there are other factors at play as well in any decision.

For me, these are the major considerations  when I consider my overall travel plans:

  • Timing – Does my travel plan allow me sufficient cushion should I encounter unusual circumstances?  If I have back-to-back trips, is there a back-up plan to combine them (and am I prepared to go seamlessly between them?)  I try to never take the last possible flight to get me to my intended destination, for example.  I’d rather have one or two flights later in the day that work as a safety plan should there be irregular operations.  I don’t always get that luxury, particularly when taking weekend trips, but it’s a nice cushion when I do.
  • Financial – Do I have appropriate backup resources should I have unforeseen issues?  Sufficient cash or credit limit, for example, if I have an unplanned overnight.  Available credit that allows me to purchase a new ticket should I need to.  I’ve run into unexpected delays due to weather, flight operations, and terrorism that have kept me up to three additional unplanned nights away from home so I’m always anticipating that possibility.
  • Geopolitical – Are there regional concerns that affect my travel.  If so, are there factors within my own control I can manage?  Avoiding large crowds in a politically tense region, for example, is a strategy I’ve employed when visiting volatile areas such as Bangkok during the deadly protests a few years ago.  Are there certain regions where travel might best be avoided for a time period?  I recently cruised in the Black Sea region and many passengers on our ship were angered that the cruise line had chosen to cancel ports in Ukraine and Russia this summer due to safety concerns in the region, feeling that they should have been obligated to provide the planned transport and allow passengers to make their own individual decisions whether to sail.
  • Safety – Am I taking safe means of transport?  (I’ve had some questionable car and boat rides in some countries where I have definitely put my physical well-being at risk!)  Am I following appropriate travel safety protocols when out in public?  Do the operators I choose to do business with (hotels, airlines, etc.) follow sound practices in ensuring guest/passenger/employee safety?

I am relatively risk averse.  I don’t stop flying after plane crashes.  Cruise line incidents have not deterred me from sailing.  Geopolitical and terrorism concerns have not kept me from visiting places like Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, and Russia.  I’m much more likely to consider timing and financial risks than I am geopolitical and safety ones.

And still, I want to quell my own uneasiness about my upcoming two flights on Malaysia Airlines.  I feel like I’m behaving more superstitiously than rationally  in my thoughts about changing.  But I’ll still have to keep my own risk management model in mind and be prepared to make my own decision as the time draws closer.

What factors do YOU consider when evaluating travel risks?  Share them in the comments below….

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last nineteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Once an "every week" road warrior, she now only travels around 100 days a year. She resides in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and playing with her Border Collie/Great Pyreness mix puppy Harley Quinn.

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  1. I dunno – I understand the idea that flying is more safe than driving, etc. etc. but it still would give me pause if I had flights flying over Ukraine any time soon…. I’m nervous enough about our upcoming family trip and we’re staying in the US!!! 🙂

    • It’s always a risk. I am more nervous sometimes about short hop domestic stuff than international travel.

  2. My risk tolerance is probably a fair bit different than most. As long as the airport remains open, I am probably willing to fly into there. I try to keep a low profile when on the ground (living in places like downtown Atlanta and Mogadishu through the years have taught me well) and very rarely find myself in any truly life threatening situations as a result.

    You could get hit by a car crossing the street in your home town, and the likelihood of that is probably more than being shot down by flying over Ukraine.

    • Your risk tolerance has – historically – been higher than mine. Then again, it was YOU and not me who almost ended up on one of the 9/11 flights. DPS-KUL-HKG doesn’t fly near Russia/Ukraine so I’m at least safe there….

  3. hello fellow p2b blogger,

    the timeliness of your article is applicable to me as well. My rtw ticket I purchased when American Airlines still allowed explorer awards takes me to finland then tel aviv next week. Everyone is saying cancel the final portion but I certainly will not.

    Besides not believing that there is a serious threat, I can’t rationalize giving up finnair business class from HEL to TLV and 2 free nights at the radisson blu tel aviv.

    Idiocy, risk loving, or points obsessed? You decide.

    • I’d have a hard time giving up my last OW Explorer (if I’d been lucky enough to get one more in before they went away!) – I’d do it, but that’s just me. I’m more nervous about MH going under before December than anything else. I talked to AA today and unfortunately nothing else is open to move to (and my cruise is already booked). They did say that if something happened to MH that they’d have more flexibility to accommodate me, whatever that means.

      • I was just about to hit the 220k mark again after my second citi exec, then i got the stupid news that they got rid of the award. So you are lucky to have booked it and are crafty, for lack of a better word, to be able to construct such a trip twice.

        If MH does go away, then who knows about the routes and the schedules and the rules etc. And of course, I’m going!!

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