Time to reconsider Garuda?

I have been avoiding flying Garuda Indonesia for two decades now! The financially troubled carrier had an appalling safety record, an ageing fleet, European bans, a patchy service culture and massive competition. To turn this around would seem impossible.

Yet last month Skytrax announced that the Indonesian airline has been nominated one of the world’s five star airlines.   This is an honour reserved for seven other carriers:

  1. Asiana Airlines,
  2. All Nippon Airways,
  3. Cathay Pacific,
  4. Hainan Airlines
  5. Malaysia Airlines (currently under review)
  6. Qatar Airways
  7.  Singapore Airlines.

This news surprised me. I have been aware of the changes at Garuda but not realised how dramatically things have turned around.

To recap, in 2007 Garuda were banned from European air space for safety reasons. In the twenty years before, they had seen seven fatal incidents.



The ban was lifted in 2009. This coincided with an ambitious five year modernisation plan called the Quantum Leap.

The plan included:

  • fleet rejuvenation (their fleet age is now an average 5 years)
  • growing the Indonesian domestic market (they have 22% of the market with 16 competitors)
  • improving its international presence
  • building on their LCC Citilink’s potential (it has 8% of the Indonesian market)
  • introducing new brand colours (see below)
  • enforcing “cost discipline”
  •  investing in human capital
New Garuda Livery

New Garuda Livery

Former Garuda CEO Emirsyah Satar even created a leadership exercise in which the management team several times a year gathered to clean their aeroplanes, to show cleanliness was a high priority.  What a message! Emir himself, it was noted, cleaned the aeroplane lavatories as a means of motivating his staff. No wonder, last year, the Centre for Aviation (CAPA) named  Emirsyah Satar as Airline Executive of the Year award. Satar resigned in December and was replaced by Arif Wibowo, former President of low-cost carrier Citilink.

Arif Wibowo (left) and Emirsyah Satar from Poskota News

Arif Wibowo (left) and Emirsyah Satar from Poskota News

In 2012 Garuda was voted as the most improved airline in the world by Skytrax. In July they added a First Class cabin to their new B777s. Last year they joined Skyteam. Then they were nominated as a Five star carrier. They are the first of the Skyteam members to be considered a five star carrier. Of the other five star carriers, three are Star Alliance carriers, three are (currently) One World and one is unaligned.

Garuda are still not making money though with relatively low loads in 2014. They were reportedly profitable in September and their last quarter losses lower. As their success grows, I assume new CEO Wibowo will be  hoping that passenger growth will follow.

My final question is “are they safe now“?

So in conclusion should I stop avoiding Garuda and fly them now?


  1. Do it! I’ve flown Garuda in the past but only within Indonesia. My only international experience with them was from LGW-AMS in business class and absolutely loved it!

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