According to NASA, the polar vortex pressure system which normally swirls around the Arctic trapping cold air near the Earth’s poles, became less stable this winter, spilling colder air southwards towards parts of U.S. The result produced scenes reminiscent of the film The Day After Tomorrow, with temperatures plummeting as low as -40F with wind chills reported above -50F/-45C in some states.

By Friday, February 1, the vortex and the Arctic air it funneled across cities from Fargo to Pittsburgh, prompted widespread disruption to public services, homes, and businesses with power outages, school closures, and thousands of flight cancellations affecting passengers both domestically and internationally.

There were reportedly over 3,000 flight cancellations and delays across the U.S during late January early February this year. In this definitive global airline report we take a comprehensive look at how the world’s leading airlines performed for customer service on Twitter during one of the coldest spells the U.S has experienced since the unforgettable North American winter of 2013/2014.

Global Airlines Customer Service Performance During the Polar Vortex

HelpHandles Aviation Index: 30 Jan — 06 Feb 2019

The SouthwestAir social media team were the overall standout performers for customer service during the polar vortex, while the AlaskaAir team were the fastest airline to respond to customers on social media.

*Accounts are programmatically scored out of 100 on our performance index across four metrics. Inbound mention volumes (25%), Response Rate (25%), Responses under 30 mins (25%) and Sentiment (25%). All metrics are available and updated every hour on

Best & Worst Performers for Customer Service During the Polar Vortex

HelpHandles Aviation Index: 30 Jan — 06 Feb 2019

Below is the break down on how each airline performed for customer service on Twitter across both North America and EMEA regions.

North American Airlines Performance During the Polar Vortex

HelpHandles Aviation Index: 30 Jan — 06 Feb 2019

Avg Response Time

The AlaskaAir social media team were the fastest to respond to customers, achieving a fantastic 5 min average response time, closely followed by JetBlue with 6 mins, and SouthwestAir with 8 mins. AmericanAir was the only North American airline to exceed our 30 min benchmark.

  1. AlaskaAir (5 mins)
  2. JetBlue (6 mins)
  3. SouthwestAir (8 mins)

Mean Avg Response Time: (15min)

If you needed assistance, then you would have probably received a speedy response from airlines in North America. With an industry mean response time of 15 mins and with over half of social media teams achieving well under that average, we can see that North American airlines are leaders for delivering fast, efficient customer service on social messaging channels, like Twitter.

Inbound Mention Volumes

American Airlines were the busiest airline notching up 8,910 mentions in total from 30 Jan — 06 Feb, followed by Delta 8,594 mentions, and Southwest Air, 7,184 mentions while WestJet received the least 2, 075 amount of mentions.

  1. American Air (8,910)
  2. Delta (8,594)
  3. SouthwestAir (7,184)

Mean Mention Volumes: (5,711)

With a mean volume of 5,711 mentions, over 7 days, it was a busy time for North American airline social media teams. Responding and scaling during times of social surges is highly important for airlines, and any brand, in which customer safety, experience and satisfaction are positioned as priority.

Response Rate

The SouthwestAir team were the most responsive, replying to 41% (2,873) of inbound mentions received, followed by United with 30% and finally, AlaskaAir and JetBlue each achieving 27% of responses.

  1. SouthwestAir (40%)
  2. United (30%)
  3. AlaskaAir & JetBlue (27%)

Mean Response Rate: (28%)

The North American airlines were less responsive than their EMEA counterparts during this period, with a lower mean response rate overall. This was mainly part of more concentrated issues around the polar vortex, than the more diversified EMEA transatlantic airlines.

Responses under 30mins

With an outstanding 99% of all responses made in under 30 mins, AlaskaAir were the fastest airline to respond to customers, with JetBlue following at 98% of responses made in under 30 mins, and Delta not far behind with 95% of responses made in under 30 mins.

AmericanAir were the slowest to respond with 63% the least amount of responses made in under 30 mins.

  1. AlaskaAir (99%)
  2. JetBlue (98%)
  3. Delta (95%)

Mean Responses under 30mins: (88%)

Airlines across North America responded on average to over 5,000 mentions over the course of 7 days averaging an 88% mean response rate under 30mins.


Sentiment was above average for the North American airlines, AlaskaAir coming out as the best performer with the most positive sentiment among passengers in the category, followed by SouthwestAir +13 points, and Delta +11 points.

  1. AlaskaAir (+16)
  2. SouthwestAir (+13)
  3. Delta (+11)

Mean Sentiment: (+10)

The mean sentiment for the North American airlines was +10 points with half of the airline social media teams achieving above the average. Despite a time of crisis, airlines strived to deliver the best experience for their digital fliers.

EMEA Airlines Performance During the Polar Vortex

HelpHandles Aviation Index: 30 Jan — 06 Feb 2019

Below is the break down on how each airline performed for customer service on Twitter.

Avg Response Time

The Lufthansa social media team were the fastest to respond to customers, achieving a 15 min response time, closely followed by EtihadHelp with 23 mins, and KLM with 33 mins.

EmiratesSupport and Finnair both exceeded our 30 min benchmark with response time in excess of 9hrs and 10hrs respectively.

  1. Lufthansa (15 mins)
  2. EtihadHelp (23 mins)
  3. KLM (32 mins)

Mean Avg Response Time: (3 hr 15 min)

EMEA airlines were not as fast as their American counterparts across the pond, with only Lufthansa and EithadHelp achieving sub-30 min responses.

Inbound Volumes

British Airways were the busiest transatlantic airline across both the EMEA and North America with a total of 9,504 mentions received from 30 Jan — 06 Feb, followed by Virgin Atlantic, and Aer Lingus.

  1. British Airways (9,504)
  2. Virgin Atlantic (1,700)
  3. Aer Lingus (1,332)

Mean Inbound Volume: (1, 521)

Unsurprisingly, EMEA airlines received less share of inbound mentions on Twitter — as the North American airlines dealt with the fall out of delays and cancellations to main routes into and out of the U.S.

Response Rate

QatarSupport were the most responsive EMEA airline responding to 61% share of mentions received. Followed by EmiratesSupport with 57% and EtihadHelp 55% responses made.

  1. QatarSupport (61%)
  2. EmiratesSupport (57%)
  3. EtihadHelp (55%)

Mean Response Rate: (36%)

On average, EMEA airlines were more responsive than North American airlines with big performances from the UAE regions helping ensure that EMEA airlines stayed competitive across this category.

Responses under 30mins

The KLM and Icelandair social media teams were the fastest airlines to respond to customers across EMEA, achieving a fantastic 94% share of responses in under 30 mins. followed by Lufthansa with an 89% share of responses.

  1. KLM (94%)
  2. Icelandair (94%)
  3. Lufthansa (89%)

Mean Responses under 30 mins: (54%)

Not as fast as the North American airlines, EMEA airlines still achieved on average over 50% of responses to customers quickly and efficiently in under 30 mins.


Icelandair, Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic were standout performers for positive sentiment among passengers, with EmiratesSupport receiving the lowest sentiment score at +2 points.

  1. Icelandair (+22)
  2. AerLingus (+21)
  3. Virgin Atlantic (+21)

Mean Sentiment: (+ 12)

Although they were not as fast as the North American Airlines, EMEA airlines achieved a higher mean sentiment score overall, remaining more responsive to passengers.


The North American airlines were the fastest to respond to customers during the polar vortex, while EMEA airlines were more responsive, achieving higher sentiment among conversations with customers.

Given the scale of the disruption, airlines across both North America and EMEA showed what they were capable of in this time period, with some stand out performances, on the HelpHandles Aviation Index, from support teams who are raising the bar for customer service in the digital age.

Rapid Response

Not to be underestimated, rapid responses on social messaging channels will help win over customers, particularly during times of crisis.

Airlines such as AlaskaAir and SouthwestAir, clearly adopt a rapid response strategy, on digital, and use speed of response as a major differentiator in this ultra-competitive industry. As a result, they see a direct uplift in customer satisfaction with above average sentiment scores and the highest rankings on the HelpHandles Aviation Index.

Paired with round the clock support and the ability to respond almost instantly to customers at scale, these standout social media teams create the important first steps to full issue resolution when interacting with customers on digital channels.

Managing Expectations

Although EMEA airlines took longer to engage and respond to incoming queries on Twitter, they were in charge when it came to responsiveness.

EMEA airlines claimed 50% share of the top ten on the HelpHandles Aviation Index with AerLingus, KLM, Icelandair, and Qatar Airways all leading across the category.

Airlines across EMEA displayed true grit, managing customers’ expectations and responding to as many queries as possible, ensuring customers were not left out in the cold.

Consumers today are more in control than ever before, armed with their smartphones, social channels ablaze, the digital customers are more empowered than ever before. In an increasingly digital world, airlines must create a meaningful dialogue with their customers, building trust to win hearts and minds. This means going beyond just resolving issues online, instead engaging, understanding and resolving their customers’ queries and questions to create genuine, empathetic and personalised experiences time and time again.