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Customer Service 101: How Airlines Use Social Media To Brave Bad Weather

It’s been some winter. Despite the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s report that this was the fourth warmest January since 1880, we’ve entered 2014 shivering with the Great Lakes experiencing its largest ice cover in twenty years and nearly half the nation dealing with temperatures of 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below, ample snow and significant power outages.

This, of course, has offered a serious challenge to airlines as they struggle to get flights off the ground and avoid delays as much as the weather allows. Let’s take a look at how this high-volume industry faces a customer service maelstrom using the power of social media.

@AmericanAir Leads the Pack

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Looking at Twitter conversations during the month of January, we see that among other top airlines, @AmericanAir leads in customer engagement on Twitter. This could have something to do with their active presence on the social media platform, but is also tied to the fact that, after merging with US Airways in December, they’re now the world’s largest airline. As you can see, during the major storm on January 18, @AmericanAir hit a noticeable peak while attempting to deal with customer complaints caused by uncooperative weather and delayed or cancelled flights.

@AmericanAir employed two effective strategies here: it reminded @trixywh that the weather conditions put this situation out of American Airlines’ control, and it expressed its apologies. @trixywh replied after this, still outraged, and that’s when American Airlines scored its third social media win—by not replying. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a good way to shut down a negative customer interaction when there’s nothing else a brand can do to rectify the situation. 

January 10 was also a big day for @AmericanAir, as Nickelodeon star James Maslow expressed (non weather-related) displeasure with his treatment by American Airlines. 3,400 users favorited the post, and 3,321 people retweeted it. @AmericanAir did a great job of ending the public dialogue and tailspin potential of this situation by letting Maslow know he was heard almost immediately and offering to continue the conversation in private:

@Delta Protects Their Brand

Delta does things a bit differently, dedicating @delta to its marketing and awareness efforts while reserving @deltaassist for replying to customer service complaints and queries. This separation has been a great success. When a follower needs anything from flight status updates to a source for further information, @deltaassist is there to help:

And speaking of separation, @deltaassist excels at knowing when to move sensitive conversations (requiring immediate action and/or submission of personal information) over to DM:

Twitter   Search   from deltaassist since 2014 01 01 until 2014 01 18

Devoting a Twitter handle solely to customer service allows marketing efforts to fly free and clear. @delta funnels all CS issues sent their way to @deltaassist, avoiding the association between their main brand handle and flight delays, baggage claim fiascos, and rewards points drama. Plus, speedy responses from @deltaassist agents cut down on customer pain, like this common complaint:

Receiving a response tweet with an average lag time of just 36 minutes—as shown in this piece of our Multiple Twitter Customer Service Report for @deltaassist and @delta for the month of January— gives customers a much quicker response than they can normally expect from phone lines during high-volume times and weather events, thus improving customer satisfaction:

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It’s important to note that although @deltaassist only responds to 16.5% of total mentions, not every mention requires assistance.

The Need to Back Your Play

The airlines most successful at weathering the customer service storm (pun intended) are ensuring that other branches bolster and back up their social media strategy. This means that call centers are fully stocked with customer service specialists to handle high call volumes and websites make rebooking easy.

Otherwise, no amount of social media camaraderie makes up for the inconvenience:


You tell us! When the weather isn’t cooperating, which services and communication do you want from an airline? What kinds of social media activity help soften the blow?

Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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