Southwest Finishes Dead Last In On-Time Arrivals

Among the biggest domestic carriers, Southwest finished at the bottom of the heap in on-time arrivals for September, according to Flightstats. This is surprising as the carrier usually performs well. Here are the overall rankings for the big birds:

Alaska Airlines – 89.55%
United Airlines – 88.93%
US Airways – 86.63%
Continental Airline – 85.62%
American Airlines – 81.78%
Delta – 80.98%
Jet Blue – 78.56%
Southwest Airlines – 78.5%

A Southwest spokesman told the Chicago Sun-Times, “It’s a disturbing trend, and I can assure you our guys are on it.”

Southwest Airlines is dead last in on-time arrivals [Chicago Sun-Times] (Thanks to Thom!)


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  1. outlulz says:

    Huh. I’ve always had good experiences with SWA at least. I haven’t been late in the last 10 or so flights I’ve taken in the past year and a few times I was early.

    • ArmyCats says:

      If you actually read the article…

      “Among the biggest domestic carriers, Southwest finished at the bottom of the heap in on-time arrivals for September, according to Flightstats.”
      Keyword: September

      “This is surprising as the carrier usually performs well.”
      Keyword: usually

      Don’t know what you’re confused about…

  2. travel_nut says:

    Hmm. I’ve flown with them (I think) 6 times in the last couple years. One flight, we were an astonishing 30 minutes *early*…all the others were either a couple minutes early, on time, or just a couple minutes late.

    • SBR249 says:

      That’s because airlines pad their schedules. For a flight that might take an hour from wheels up to touch down, they will sometimes schedule 2-3 hours of “flight time.” If they are late even with that then it’s pretty inexcusable.

  3. grapedog says:

    I wonder if it’s one or two particular runs that were causing the dip overall for SW because I’ve never heard hide nor hair for complaints about SW arrival times.

  4. Dover says:

    “A disturbing trend? What is it?”
    “It’s a negative swing, but that’s not important now.”

    /”There’s a sale at Penny’s!”

  5. Harmodios says:

    Chew That Consumerist Southwest Lovers! Does Not Compute Ay? Messes Up The Little Brain All These Pesky Facts That Contradict Your Pre-Conceived Notions, Does It Not?

  6. Bativac says:

    I don’t care, I’ll still continue to fly Southwest. They offer the best flight experience around today, especially for the price. Their customer service is far superior to other airlines and they still don’t charge me to check a bag.

  7. apd09 says:

    I am willing to accept being late in exchange for my bags flying free and not having a fee for every little thing. Although they are last, they are always near the top in customer satisfaction.

    The numbers seem a bit misleading because if you do not fly as many flights as US Air or United, say they each fly 1,000 a day, and Southwest will fly 600 day, the percentage could seem low even though they have roughly the amount of flights that are delayed as compared with other airlines.

    Just guessing at those above numbers but that would mean United had 110 flights arrive late while Southwest had 129 which is roughly the same amount.

    United jumping to the No. 1 spot with an impressive 88.9 percent on-time arrival performance, while U.S. Airways finished No. 2 with 86.6 percent of flights arriving on-time, just ahead of No. 3 Continental at 85.6 percent. Delta Airlines and American Airlines also finished well ahead of Southwest.
    For the first time in recent memory, with a 78.5 percent September on-time arrival performance, Southwest finished dead last among the largest domestic carriers, according to Flightstats, a Portland, Ore.-based provider of airline performance data.

    • Salty Johnson says:

      Well, see, the thing is… Southwest flies the most flights out of all airlines in the United States. If you look at the report in the PDF file that actually lists all the numbers by category, you’ll see that in September Southwest flew a whopping 91,648 flights. Delta was second with about 70,000 and everybody else was below 55,000 flights that month.

      Southwest flies a massive number of flights because they’re a commuter airline. They fly long routes with short hops which inevitably lead to a lower percentage of on-time flights because (pay attention because this one’s a doozy) FLIGHT DELAYS USUALLY HAPPEN WHEN THE PLANE IS ON THE GROUND.

      So it’s no surprise that Southwest would be near the bottom of the pack in terms of on-time flights, especially since a late arrival means it arrived at the gate greater than 1 minute past scheduled time, and the number of short flights a single plane does in a day means that one delayed flight could delay the rest of that plane’s day if the passengers are slow to load (I fly Southwest all the time and a SWA plane is only at the gate for about a half hour before they send it off for the next leg of its route). Besides, on-time rate is still 78%, which is definitely respectable… especially when I can fly from San Francisco to San Diego for $65.

  8. Mike says:

    I actually don’t even care. I will fly SWA just because they don’t nickel and dime me for my bags, their seats are more comfortable, they actually give me onboard snacks, and I like their boarding system since I don’t have to navigate some convoluted seating system charging more for certain parts of the plane.(The whole economy plus seating on United is lame.) If they are 10% later than the competition, it is totally worth it for all the other benefits.

  9. katarzyna says:

    Meh. I’d fly Southwest if they went anywhere I wanted to go.

  10. poco says:

    Oh how the mighty have fallen. Southwest used to be one of the few decent airlines.

    • common_sense84 says:

      Except this study is either flawed or a single airport southwest uses as a hub is disproportionately throwing off the statistics.

      Notice how not one person says they were late on southwest. Yet many are saying they usually get in early.

      • WagTheDog says:

        Yeah, my SWA flights are always annoying early and I have to wait a long time for my ride. I end up shopping in the airport every time. I think the airport vendors are bribing SW!

  11. theblackdog says:

    This is definitely odd and I hope they fix that.

    In my ten years of flying Southwest on a semi-regular basis, I have only had one flight end up delayed, and it was by only ten minutes.

    • 3skr1mad0r says:

      I’ve been delayed a few minutes with Southwest before but they seem to make up the time in the air quite often.
      Also, I think this is a case of other airlines fudging their numbers while Southwest does not.
      The Sun-Times article shows other airlines now giving bonuses to employees for exceeding time goals which means now they are actually making an effort. Lets just see when those goals surpass safety because some crew wants their bonus. I’m sure those costs will be passed on to us as well.

  12. AllanG54 says:

    I fly Delta whenever I have to fly and have never departed late unless there were delays beyond their control.

  13. Tristan Smith says:

    Last 3 Southwest flights I’ve taken I’ve arrived considerably early
    From Denver to Baltimore: 15 minutes early
    From Baltimore to Las Vegas: 1 hour and 15 minutes early
    From Las Vegas To Orange County: 25 Minutes

  14. sonneillon says:

    Well southwest has the most pasangers. So it would stand to reason that they are going to be more congested.

    I fly Jetblue personally because the price is the same, and I get more legroom and a chance of a flight attendant yelling an expletive and popping the emergency exit.

  15. darascon says:

    It’s hard to be late when the flight is cancelled….

    Way to keep those numbers up!!!!

    Can’t report a flight as late if it never happens….

  16. majortom1981 says:

    HUH I have flown with them 10 times and everytime they have been ontime. where do these figures come from?

    Are all there early arrivals counting against them ?

  17. PLATTWORX says:

    Nothing against their fans, but I have never understood the allure of Southwest Airlines.

    Where I fly out of, they are typically the same price or higher for the flight I am looking for than other carriers. No idea why. In addition, you are treated my cattle boarding the plane.

    Why would I select them when I can pay the same or less, pick a seat and not have to put up with all the oddities and late arrivals?

    • common_sense84 says:

      Southwest is hit or miss. They are dirt cheap for many places. I honestly don’t get their pricing scheme. They can be dirt cheap for certain routes, and other routes that are about the same distance, they will be crazy expensive.

    • partofme says:

      I generally get better prices on SWA. It depends on where you are. And in addition, I get no-cost flexibility in what I bring for luggage. On top of that, I get to pick my seat too. I just get to do it in real-time, when I have information like how full the plane will be and whether those three seats behind me are taken by a family with a 5 year old and a 2 year old. I can then, ya know, adjust my choice in real-time, rather than being stuck with the choice I made months ago when all the seats were either “full” or “vacant”. I’ve even picked up the knack for grabbing the window seat most likely to have an empty middle seat. I’m not going to actually tell the secret (don’t want to jinx it), but it’s worked on 3 of my last 4 Southwest flights (the other was completely and totally full).

  18. Stahi says:

    Yeah, this IS odd. I only fly Southwest these days (yes, even if they do the whole “charge double for the fat guy” thing. But at least you get it back if the plane isn’t sold out AND you can pre-board with the folks in wheelchairs!) and only once was I ever late which was due to a broken piece of equipment. Every other flight that I can remember I’ve always been at LEAST 5-10 minutes early. One time I was half an hour early which made me so happy as I only had a 40 minute or so layover.

  19. common_sense84 says:

    I have never been late with southwest. It is either exactly on time or early.

  20. majortom1981 says:

    I looked up the numbers and it must be a weird way of getting the numbers. Southwest has a couple of routes that have delays in the 20’s or 30’s but say united has double and tripple the amount of delays atleast so how does united get rated better then southwest ?

  21. mirrorball says:

    I haven’t flown SWA in a while, but usually had good experiences. I give the company credit for calling it “disturbing” and saying their working on it. Usually when airlines get called up for these kind of stories, they say something along the lines of “well, there was a lot of crappy weather. What the hell do you want us to do about it?”

  22. Newto-Rah says:

    “It’s a disturbing trend, and I can assure you our guys are on it.”

    But they’re not taking it very seriously, so I doubt anything will get done

  23. wetrat says:

    On-time statistics for all airlines are bogus. For example, a flight from BWI to LGA (Baltimore to New York City) is around 45 minutes in the air, but Southwest blocks off 1:20 for the flight. Therefore, if it actually takes 10 minutes on the ground on each side, plus 45 in the air, then they have arrived “15 minutes early”. On the other hand, a flight from BWI to ISP (Baltimore to Long Island NY) is blocked for only 1:00, even though LGA and ISP are in fact very close together. The real reason for the difference? LGA is very congested while ISP is not.. so they are building in room for delay.

    Perhaps the legacy carriers are better than Southwest at padding their time into and out of busy airports; however, the fact that they pad the schedules so heavily means that the statistics themselves are pretty useless.

    • partofme says:

      I never thought about this. I guess it makes sense that there is no standard block of time… which does, in fact, make this a pretty useless measure.

    • DingoAndTheBaby says:

      THIS! This is the first thing I said when I read the article. The legacy carriers have been padding their times for years. Of course you’ll have minimal late arrivals if you allot 1 1/2 hours for a 45-minute flight.

      I just see this report as saying that Southwest is more honest than the others.

  24. partofme says:

    I’ve been delayed exactly once when flying SWA. There was a big swath of weather between Chicago and the east. They handled it nicely, the captain was upfront about what was going on, when he expected a reroute to be approved, and how he was jumping in line to take off in hopes that the reroute would hit the system before we got to the runway. My friend (not flying SWA) happened to be coming from the east through Chicago the very same day. Her story is MUCH more depressing. She was connecting in Chicago, and they totally screwed her even though she had time to make it… and then gave her the runaround rather than be helpful. When I have a customer service nightmare like that with SWA, THEN I’ll consider not flying them anymore.

  25. valthun says:

    Flew Southwest a couple weekends ago in September and it was crazy, just about every flight leaving LAX was delayed and the Southwest gate agents couldn’t tell us why.

  26. Sunflower1970 says:

    Cheap air fare, no baggage fees…not many fees at all…I’ll take SWA over the competition any day…

  27. Paintmann says:

    I would also be curious how late the flights were that got them the lowest rating. (IE the had 22% of their flights late, but 95% of those were less than 10 mins vs only 10% of the flights being late, but 95% of them were 30 + minutes)

    • fabs115 says:

      I only fly jet blue. The prices are pretty good, free snacks, direct tv/Xm at your seat. Can’t beat that.

      I had my first delay ever on Jet blue this weekend. We took off about an hour and a half late because the plane we were taking to NY was late in arriving to the airport in Charlotte.

  28. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    Never had a problem with Southwest or Jet Blue (knock-knock).

    I HAVE, on the other hand, had problems with at least three of the other airlines mentioned.

  29. Hoot says:

    You’d think Alaska would encounter a lot of storms and turbulence. But every time I’ve flown on them has been a great experience. Perhaps they just factor in the turbulence whereas the other airlines factor in a smooth, uneventful ride every time?

  30. captadam says:

    My experience is not a scientific sample, but I have flown Southwest quite a few times–and only once had to deal with a late flight.

  31. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Nice to see the comments refute the article. I have never flown Southwest, but I was looking forward to trying them someday. When I saw the headline I was like “Nooo!”

  32. mcs328 says:

    They need an average time they are late. If they are on average 10 minutes late then fine. If the other airlines are on average 30-60 minutes late then that makes a difference.

    • mcs328 says:

      I just read the linked article. You count as being on time even if you are 15 minutes late. Oh and United is improving because they offer cash incentives to their employees if the plane arrives on time or early. So now you know where you’re extra baggage fees go to.

  33. Snaptastic says:

    This surprises me–ALOT. Among air traffic controllers, we know that Southwest is usually very fast to taxi and if you ask them to move without delay, they freaking move WITHOUT DELAY. They do quite well while in the air as well.

    On the other end of the spectrum, we expect American to taxi slow as mud and drag their feet on takeoff. Other air carriers will occasionally request longer taxi routes to get in front of American to the runway.

  34. Greely says:

    Yay for meaningless statistics passed off as actual information!

  35. ahow628 says:

    Most of my SWA flights end up arriving early and we’ve even had to wait for a gate to open up before being able to disembark. Even after waiting for a gate to open up, we were still 10-15 minutes early.

  36. RunawayJim says:

    The only reasons I’ve been delayed on Southwest were due to PHL being a sucky airport that’s always full of delays. Anywhere I’ve gone other than PHL, the flights have been just fine.

  37. SWBLOOPERS says:

    I’ve had enough positive experiences on Southwest that I’m quite willing to put up with a delay or two.

  38. kaleberg says:

    To be honest, I’m not surprised. I’ve flown Southwest maybe a half dozen times over the last ten years, and was never less than 1/2 hour late. Several times I was several hours late which is one reason I’ve flown Southwest so rarely.