Airlines and social media: dialogue waiting to happen

Social media means that airlines just have another place where they can be raked over the coals. We complain to ticket agents. We complain to gate agents. We complain to customer service reps. And now, we can complain to the world, thanks to the likes of Twitter. I, for example, follow @DeltaSucks, though there hasn’t been any action on it in several months. I don’t just listen, though. When I’m stuck in an airport, I tweet relentlessly, and I know I’m not alone.

So, what’s an airline to do about this? And Facebook? And YouTube?

The attack is coming on all fronts, and an industry that’s been beaten up so severely and so often has few options. For now, the response is limited to tweeting fare deals, but obviously, that does little to address the continued stream of negative exposure to which the airlines are subjected.

When in doubt, the philosophy on social media complaints appears to be silence. Continental and American Airlines wouldn’t comment on recent tweets from disgruntled fliers, according to a Reuters report. They are monitoring and claim to be responding, but that’s about all. Billy Sanez, who manages social media for American’s parent, AMR, believes that these platforms make it easier to open a dialogue with passengers … but where is that dialogue?

When I got pissed off at JetBlue a year ago, I wrote about it on my personal blog and heard nothing from JetBlue. But, I did hear from other passengers … one of whom was afraid to say too much because he was still in transit and didn’t want to risk angering the airline. This level of paranoia may be extreme, but the implication is clear: passengers could find even a small blog, but airlines are squandering a chance to really engage the people who pay their bills.

Christi Day, who takes care of Twitter and Facebook for Southwest Airlines, told Reuters, “The main thing that our customers need to know is that we hear them.” But, again, there is no discussion of what the airline is doing about it.

Customers finally have a voice, and as we saw with “United Breaks Guitars,” it can get pretty loud. While the airlines may be listening, we’re still waiting for the second half of “dialogue” to happen.