Will Southwest Airlines keep its #1 Airline Quality ranking amid flurry of cancelations?


AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — As Southwest Airlines continues to cancel dozens of flights in Texas, many are wondering what is behind the flurry of cancelations nationwide.

On its Twitter, Southwest said “air traffic control issues” and “disruptive weather” are what led to widespread cancelations across the country, including Austin.

The airline canceled approximately 1,800 flights over the weekend and cancelations continued into Monday. As of Monday afternoon, more than 300 flights nationwide had been canceled and more than 800 have been delayed, according to FlightAware.

According to the Airline Quality Rating (AQR), developed by researchers at Wichita State University, Southwest is currently ranked #1 among the country’s largest 10 airlines.

The rating ranks airlines by airline performance and airline quality.

Per the AQR, Southwest had the lowest consumer complaint rate compared to other airlines, at 2.64 per 100,000 passengers. Amid the recent flurry of cancelations, some customers have said there has been no explanation on why their flights are canceled.

“[We] went out and about last night after the festival, ended up being at a bar around 1 and got a text, ‘Hey your flight is canceled,’ no reason, no explanation, just canceled,” Katie Hickey and Peri Tehven told KXAN, following a busy weekend two at the Austin City Limits Festival.

2021 AQR rankings:

  1. Southwest
  2. Allegiant
  3. Delta
  4. Alaska
  5. Spirit
  6. JetBlue
  7. American
  8. United
  9. Hawaiian
  10. Frontier

In 2021, Southwest maintained a nearly level score from 2020. AQR reports the other nine worsened. Among the criteria the AQR measures is on-time performance.

When asked about the impact this weekend’s flight cancellations could have on its AQR rating, an industry expert believes it could hurt the airline in that area in particular.

“It might hurt them in the algorithm a bit,” said Daniel Burnham, a senior product operations specialist with Scott’s Cheap Flights, a travel agency. “That said, I don’t think it’s going to hurt them too much in the long term from a reputation standpoint, because I think a lot of people, they’re not looking at rank when deciding who to fly. They’re looking at price, they’re looking at schedule and other things like that.”

While many speculated the cancelations and delays were in part to Southwest’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its employees, the airline said that wasn’t the case.

“We experienced weather challenges in our Florida airports at the beginning of the weekend, challenges that were compounded by unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region, triggering delays and prompting significant cancellations for us beginning Friday evening,” an airline spokesperson said. “We’ve continued diligent work throughout the weekend to reset our operation with a focus on getting aircraft and crews reposition to take care of our customers.”

You can read the full AQR report online.

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