Frequent flyer programs around the world prohibit the redemption of miles for certain destinations. For example, you cannot book award flights to Pyongyang using United miles on Air China, but you can use Aeroplan miles:
While Pyongyang is a politically contentious place, crime or detention reports don’t reveal that travelling to the DPRK is dangerous. However, without argument, flying to Mogadishu is very dangerous. Foreigners are often the victim of kidnappings and violent murder; airplanes landing at Aden Adde airport have to use special “spiral landing” manoeuvres to avoid land-to-air missiles. According to the United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Somalia, and especially Mogadishu, are hotbeds for crime, including attacks at the airport and on civilian aircraft.1
In contrast, the Department of State doesn’t have strong words against travel to the DPRK (except for the invalidity of a US passport).2 It appears that the US government doesn’t consider the DPRK as a threat to the security of travellers, just as a threat to national and political security.
I don’t know of a frequent flyer program that disallows bookings to Mogadishu, which is served by Turkish Airlines with a stop in Djibouti.
With the current escalation of threats to post-WWII international security, and the escalation of violent threats in parts of Africa and the Middle East, I have to ask – do frequent flyer programs have a moral duty to not book flights to certain destinations?
I think there are a couple aspects at play. Of course there’s the libertarian philosophy which is rather convincing, that frequent flyer programs (or any travel agency at that) have no role is playing big brother and telling us where we can and can’t go. If I want to go to Mogadishu, that’s my prerogative, and it’s my risk to assume.
On the other hand, there’s also the notion that a carrier is wilfully and knowingly sending you to a place in which you have a very good chance of being killed or kidnapped. I can easily see scenarios where someone may not fully understand the risk of their destination, or is mentally incompetent to appreciate or care about that risk. The state often plays a role in dissuading or preventing actions that bring about personal risk, such as through drug policy, and I struggle to see why the same “nanny-state” policy couldn’t be arguably applied to prevent flight bookings to extremely dangerous locations.
Further, there’s also the consideration for public policy. The United States is “at war” for a certain number of causes, and it’s seeming more and more likely that they’re going to enter into conflict with the DPRK. Allowing frequent flyer programs to make flights to enemy nations can arguably be said to be supporting an enemy state (if you fly to the DPRK, some sort of revenue will flow to the DPRK, meaning a person is funding an enemy state).
Personally, I struggle with this debate. If someone asked me to fly to the DPRK through my award booking company, I would likely decline the request. However, I have no personal issue with someone choosing to visit the DPRK, Mogadishu, Syria, etc. I am, at a fundamental level, inclined to say that frequent flyer programs should book whatever they can, without regard to the destination, based on the principles of individual choice. On the other hand, I am concerned that someone who doesn’t appreciate the risks of their travel may be enabled if they can fly somewhere on points that would normally be prohibitively expensive.
What do you think? Should frequent flyer programs prohibit bookings to certain dangerous destinations? Why?