Southwest Airlines ranked last among US airlines for safety on a technicality

A study was conducted by AirlineRatings which reports that Southwest Airlines, is the worst among US carriers as it earned only three out of seven possible stars.

Some of the US carriers which did earn seven out of seven stars were American, Delta, Alaska, United, Hawaiian, Jet Blue, Sun Country, Silver Airways, Frontier, Cape Air, Omni Air International. But of this list only Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines ranked among the world’s top 20 safest carriers by AirlineRatings’ analysis of 405 carriers globally.

There were three US airlines that received four star ratings which were Allegiant, Spirit and PenAir putting them all above Southwest Airlines.

On an international scale, Southwest Airlines falls in line with such carriers as northern Canada’s First Air, Avia Traffic Co. (Kyrgyzstan), Aerocaribbean (Cuba), Aerocaribbean (Cuba), Tajik Air (Tajikistan), Air Panama, Turkmenistan Airlines, and Ethiopian Airlines.

The company that came in ranked at only one safety star in the study was Nepal Airlines.

Two things that worked against Southwest to lower its ranking was first the accident back in April of 2018 on a Southwest flight form New York to Dallas when a piece of shrapnel from an engine that failed, blew apart then crashed through a window and struck a passenger who died after an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

The second reason is a technicality which doesn’t seem to be a fair one.  Of major importance for the study is whether or not an airline has passed its audit for operational safety (IOSA) done by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which is the trade organization of the world’s airlines. 

Apparently Southwest did not check the box.

An IOSA rating is required by all airlines who are members of IATA. Southwest is not a member. 

The US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) very closely regulates and inspects all US airline carriers which means that Southwest’s lack of an IOSA audit does not mean that it is not safe. But not being a member of IATA and having an IOSA rating ended up costing it a three star rating.

According to SFGATE, an online sister-site to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Rating airlines on safety is a touchy, difficult subject. For example, a competing airline rating site,, states that it ‘does not publish a comparative rating of airline safety standards or airline safety record details, because there is no single accurate, global reference of safety standards and/or safety incidents which provides information that can in our opinion be truly trusted by passengers, or which supplies total accuracy to customers in choosing an airline… It is critical that any single, global measure of airline safety provides exactly that – a single rating format with no gaps caused by inconsistency in the way safety incidents may or may not be reported’.”