Hurricane rebooking madness: US Airways wins, American loses

Stella Service just captured an interesting slice of airline customer service data during hurricane Irene. The weather catastrophe, which stranded hundreds of thousands of travelers throughout the weekend, left many trying to rebook their tickets at the airport and on the phone — only to be met with hours of on-hold-music and frustration.

Not all airlines handled the disaster equally, however. Based on a series of eight test phone calls and a dozen tweets to each airline, Stella determined the responsiveness of each airline and ranked them accordingly. What they found was that on average, hold times with US Airways were an average of only 2 minutes and 38 seconds long, while to reach an agent at American it took over an hour and a half.

Similarly, Delta was the best at responding to Twitter issues, responding to 100% of Tweets in an average of 14 minutes, while neither American nor United nor AirTran even bothered to respond.

These data paint a rough portrait of the state of customer service at the airlines during a weather emergency, though they should be taken with a grain of salt. In their defense, American and Delta have more flights departing from New York City, so it follows that more passengers were probably displaced on those carriers. Southwest and US Airways, conversely, have their major hubs inland.

Attention to Twitter, however, is harder to defend. Any airline can devote manpower to a Twitter feed, and letting customers stew in that medium without resolution is just plain irresponsible. As a silver lining to this study, hopefully these data provide incentive for the airlines to put more thought into their social media strategies.

You can read the full dataset over at the Stella Blog.Update 1: United Airlines issued the following statement following the release of this data:

STELLAService sent 12 Tweets to our inactive @Continental handle, and we replied to six of those from our active @United account. A short time later, we saw the same 12 questions submitted to the @United handle. STELLAService’s assertion is that we didn’t reply to any of the questions they submitted to @United, which is only true because we had already answered the identical questions they submitted to @continental.

Had we not answered the questions they tweeted to our inactive @continental handle, we would have replied to the questions they tweeted to our active @United handle, just as we replied to more than 200 other customer inquiries on Twitter.

Update 2: American Airlines issued the following statement following the release of this data:

We disagree with the findings of the study. We believe it is highly inaccurate and based on an insufficient sample size – eight calls and 12 tweets on average – that that skewed results and does not represent reality. We handled more than 100,000 calls on Friday, and during the period in question our customers waited an average of 21 minutes – far less than alleged and in line with most of our peers. Our response time for AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold customers averaged from 30 seconds to less than three minutes per call. Of the 78 tweets directed to us from Thursday through Sunday, a significant number of which did not request action, we responded to 46 tweets either publicly or privately to assist customers, and we also sent four proactive tweets with travel information related to the storm. Each day, and especially in times of service disruption, we make responding to and informing our customers – whether through social or other traditional direct channels – our highest priority.