Silicon Beach: Using Twitter to Bitch About Airlines

Yours truly recently dealt with an American Airlines screw up that caused her to miss a trip to Hawaii. So after writing a blog post, starting a thread on a local travel community forum and filling out an official contact form to airline customer relations, all that was left was Twitter.

A refund was issued over the phone less than an hour after the flight took off from Miami International Airport. But the trip was botched; it remains a mystery as to why.

A few messages to @aairwaves didn't solve the mystery, but the Twitter account did reply with a blanket response such as  "we're sorry and we'll do our best to help you."

Corporate Twitter accounts are only as good as their ability to actually solve customer service issues, but at least it's a start. The real social media power here lies not in the hands of the airline, but in an amazing little thing known as a Twitter hashtag. A search of #AmericanAirlines over a couple of hours yesterday afternoon revealed that at that time, the sweeping majority of people who tweeted about the carrier were pretty pissed off. It's no surprise, what with the insanity of holiday travel these days. Here's a sampling:

@amberrl: Fuuuuck youuuuu #AmericanAirlines

@brentdshelton: Who has the worst airline customer service? #AmericanAirlines

@aaronstarkey: I guess you can't find the time or don't want my money for an available upgrade. Fail #americanairlines

@caskeyhunsader: Not to mention I had the pleasure of waiting an hour to be told my luggage won't be here until tomorrow. #americanairlines #fail

@tdkme: Did I mention #americanairlines sucks?they cancelled our return flight since they didn't update that we were on a layover. #fuckingretards

@tdkme: #americanairlines so far cancelled flights, lost bags, delayed flights, rude customer service, crappy systems, worst air experience EVER #FU

@jordanbutcher: Thanks to #AmericanAirlines for covering my duffle bag in airplane de-icer fluid and ruining all my clothes. Merry Christmas. [email protected]&#%*?!!!!!!
Never has it been easier to gripe about bad customer service in a worldwide forum platform such as Twitter. Unlike more cumbersome online forums or review sites, Twitter is extremely easy to use and follow, even on mobile devices. 

And it's not just you airing your dissatisfaction, but your followers spreading the word through retweets. It's like a kvetch fest with limitless re-kvetching. 

If airlines are concerned about loyalty, they need to realize all traditional advertising goes to hell when social networks like Twitter take over. Publicity is really in the hands of customers here. Social media gives customers the power to influence opinion, good or bad.

Without a blog, a forum and a Twitter account, yours truly would have reached only about a dozen people by word of mouth, as opposed to hundreds on the interwebs. Anyone has ever poo-pooed Twitter can't deny there's potential strength in numbers here.

Got complaints or praise? Go ahead and add to the conversation -- Twitter may not make companies accountable, but at least customers can voice their opinions for the world to hear. Don't forget to use hashtags. Here's a list of some other major national carrier Twitter accounts:

Continental (@Continental)
Delta (@DeltaAirLines)
Jet Blue (@JetBlue)
Southwest (@SouthwestAir)
United (@UnitedAirlines)
Spirit (@SpiritAirlines)
Virgin America (@VirginAmerica)

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Miami native Maria de Los Angeles currently journeys in northern latitudes but is a correspondent for the Magic City. A community advocate, she pens stories about art, culture, good folks doing good things, women's issues, and only-in-Miami moments.