Why I Don’t Bother With Airline Customer Service Via Twitter Anymore

Filed Under: Travel Technology

On an almost daily basis someone tags me in a conversation about an abysmal experience they’re having with airline customer service on Twitter. Heck, during the United leggings “scandal” a couple of weeks ago, it’s actually United’s Twitter customer service that got them in so much trouble.

When United was asked about their dress code on Twitter, they made it sound as if they had a dress code preventing revenue passengers from wearing leggings. Arguably that’s what made this situation spiral out of control.

Airline customer service on Twitter used to be great

I used to use airline customer service on Twitter all the time. Several years back I loved American’s Twitter customer service. They were always on top of things and incredibly competent. If I wanted something resolved, they could do it more quickly than over the phone, not to mention they actually seemed to staff their most competent people from major departments there (customer service, reservations, etc.).

On top of that, they really got to know frequent flyers, so it was almost like you had a bond with them. Unfortunately over the years that has changed, and I don’t blame airlines for that. I think the decline in customer service over Twitter was inevitable, given how much it has grown, and given how common customer service via Twitter has become.

How airlines measure Twitter “success”

There are a couple of problems with customer service over Twitter. First of all, any sort of airline rankings or awards for Twitter customer service seem to be based around two primary metrics:

  • How often airlines respond when someone Tweets at them
  • How quickly those initial responses come

So the way most airlines seem to approach Twitter is that they need to respond every single time they’re mentioned, and as quickly as possible… at least the first time. That doesn’t give them an incentive to resolve anything quickly, but rather only to say “we’re looking into it,” or whatever. To me that seems counterproductive.

If someone Tweets their frustration about being delayed, I’m not sure what exactly an airline is accomplishing by responding in two minutes and saying “we’ll get you on your way as soon as possible.” Or when someone Tweets their frustration about how long a customer service line is, they’ll respond with “our colleagues will help you as soon as possible.” Is that supposed to make us feel better?

But unfortunately this is the kind of stuff that airlines focus most of their Twitter efforts on, because it’s all about responding to everyone quickly. This is exactly how the United leggings fiasco unfolded.

Someone Tweeted to ask about United’s dress code, so their “go to” response is to point to the contract of carriage, rather than taking time to analyze the situation.

Airline customer service on Twitter has almost become like an automated response bot. I imagine airlines can’t really retain much Twitter “talent” given how dumbed down the service has become. Could you imagine essentially having to be a bot and insincerely apologizing to people all day? It seems worse than working in a lost baggage department at an airline.

Yesterday JonNYC linked me to a Tweet about how some American Executive Platinum members had systemwide upgrades extended a couple of months ago, but now they’re being told that they’re no longer valid. American responded on Twitter by saying that you can track your systemwide upgrade balance online, which clearly wasn’t addressing the situation.

There’s too much noise

That brings me to the point of this post — I’ve stopped bothering with airline customer service on Twitter. That’s not to say that all airlines are bad, but rather that it’s just not worth the effort anymore. I don’t necessarily even think the airlines are totally at fault here. As long as their metric of Twitter success continues to be that they respond to everyone as quickly as possible, it won’t be an especially useful tool.

There’s so much noise, and airlines are taking time to respond to everyone, even if there’s not a question, rather than focusing on the questions coming in, researching, and taking time to get a correct response.

But maybe that’s partly also our fault. We expect fast and accurate service on Twitter. We want issues handled right away, and that makes it tough to manage expectations. Do we want Twitter customer service to work the same way as picking up a phone and calling reservations, or do we want it to work like an email to customer relations, where it could take several days to get a response, but it’s more likely to be researched correctly?

Bottom line

Personally I don’t bother with airline customer service through Twitter anymore. That’s not to say that all airlines are bad, but rather that Twitter is a form of media that just doesn’t seem conducive to providing quality service. It has gotten too big, and there’s too much noise. Airlines are focused on addressing the noise rather than providing real customer service on it, and I can’t say I necessarily blame them. It’s inevitable.

Hell, American can’t even get their usual customer relations email right, where they have time to formulate an answer. I’ve had two negative experiences in a row with American’s customer relations, as I wrote about here and here.

What has been your experience with airline customer service on Twitter? Are there any airlines that still do a great job with Twitter?

  1. I agree that tweeting their overall handles isn’t particularly useful but I’ve had a lot of success reaching out via DM on Twitter (AA/DL/UA/AS). They’ve been able to handle all sorts of things via DM including AA last year switching the KA segment on our award from DPS – HKG to HKT – DPS when our plans changed.

  2. Fascinating. I’m an old fart with only the vaguest notion of what Twitter is, and no Facebook account.

    But I am sufficiently smartphone savvy to use apps. Except KLM’s app has blocked me (it was too dumb to remember the password), and apparently I have to get it unblocked via either Twitter or Facebook. What? I don’t have the first clue how to go about that.

    So one of their business class passengers ends up getting lousier-than-average service, and KLM becomes only an “if I have to” airline rather than one I’d choose.

  3. Being helpful without being useful. That’s what customer service does, because most of them people are just venting frustrations. And like good girlfriends they just listen, without giving a crap about your problems.

  4. Delta attaches your twitter handle to the profile which must explain (as a diamond) that I get great response via DM.

  5. I’ve interacted with AA’s Twitter team a number of times and they’ve always been helpful. They were even able to correct an issue with my ticket one time that the phone staff said I’d have to go to the airport to fix.

    I also had some good communication with the UA team when I arrived home to find my bag had been on an earlier flight but the baggage office was already closed for the day (at 7 pm). Couldn’t get a resolution at that time but they reached out later via DM asking for more info, which I appreciated.

  6. I think the bottom line is really that airline customer service via Twitter is GREAT for some things, and not so great for others. I just used Twitter this morning to confirm that my wife’s reservation for tomorrow morning correctly included an infant in arms. It was nice to get that confirmed via Twitter and not have to call in and wait for a while to figure that out.

    Obviously, other more complicated requests don’t work so well.

  7. I have no status with DL. I had a schedule change that shortened my connection time to below my comfort zone in ATL. I tweeted the concern to DL. They responded with a request to send the booking code via DM. I sent them a note via direct message with booking code and the later flight number. Two minutes later the flight was changed and a message was sent. I was impressed. I knew that it was something very specific and relatively easy to do. It saved me a phone call, a long hold time, etc. I will try it again, but will call for anything more complicated than that.

  8. Sadly because of the histrionics of some to use Twitter as a mechanism to take cheap shots at the airlines, now the airlines spend their Twitter resources to stave off bad PR instead of helping passengers.

  9. @donna guilty as charged. Airline shut down their customer service phone lines so what else are we to do when you are stuck for hours and frustrated? Tweet of course.

  10. I love both Qantas and AA Twitter agents; they have both always been very responsive anytime I’ve had a question. I usually DM them rather than tweet to them.

  11. I’ve had OK help from AA recently, nothing by sass-mouth from AC, and absolutely no help from UA. I use it as a multi-pronged approach. The past 4 times I’ve called AA, I’ve had super nice agents! I’m certain they’ll all be fired soon enough.

  12. It seems like the Twitter accounts used to do something to solve your problem and now they just say they’re sorry and they’ll pass your concerns along.

  13. I second your point on AA Customer Service: on Monday, I sent a message on the AA website to the Customer service after a flight was cancelled.
    I am EXP on AA, and still waiting for a call/email 6 days later.
    About to mail them a letter and incurred expenses/receipts.

  14. @Lucky Just a copy editing issue: Both Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary have the verb “tweet” (meaning to post on Twitter) as lower case. It looks a little odd capitalizing it.

  15. Surely you know that by DM-ing them one gets almost immediate service (at least in my case). That would be helpful to share with readers.

  16. I DM all the time and 99% of the time get my problem resolved. From seat assignements to ticket issues to questions to upgrades. All can be done via DM.

  17. I’m mostly just using twitter customer service to relay compliments regarding excellent service from individual attendants or GA’s… and hoping those kudos make their way to those staff members.
    CS resolution via twitter does seem to be long gone. I’d settle for a little more empathy though. I think some of these twitter teams are banned from using the word ‘sorry’.

  18. I send WN direct messages on twitter. They always respond and are very sincere. Their flights are always delayed but I’m never leaving them, period. Their rewards program and customer service are the cremé a la cremé.

  19. I make about 50% of my complex BA bookings via twitter (DM, not public), and in all honesty, despite all the issues that BA is having, their twitter team is excellent. They follow up by phone when more practical and the best thing is that whoever calls you, has all the history. I’m pretty sure BA can track revenue from my interactions – and I’m happy with the service. It really is 24/7 and boy are they faster at night.

  20. I have been going around with AA for a month on a discrepancy with the boarding privileges with my Citi Executive card since the boarding process changed March 1. Nothing my ignored emails and gate agent huffing me eye rolling at me. Called AA out on twitter and they’ve been responding by direct message to me for two weeks now but no one there is actually working on my problem. I just keep getting “we’ll get back to you when we know something.” The annual fee on that card is a lot for me but I thought it a good investment. They’re making me regret it now.

  21. Public messages are useless, especially if for something stupid like to complain about a delay which is hardly within their control anyway. But direct messages are extremely useful at many airlines, and allow you to accomplish many if not all of the things you could achieve with a call to reservations without having to wait on hold. I have done things like check upgrade space, process upgrades, get partner award PNRs, and even cancel bookings via DM with Delta.

  22. Delta’s team is still very helpful via DM … sounds to me just like another reason to avoid AA as opposed to Twitter teams in general…

  23. DL lets you plug your Twitter handle into your SkyMiles profile. In December I showed up at the ATL international terminal and there was a 90-minute SkyPriority check-in line. I was Diamond Medallion at the time – within about 15 min. of sending a DM to Delta on Twitter, a manager from HQ called me on my cell phone and asked what they needed to do to make things right – they expedited our check-in, called the gate to hold our upgrades (they had started upgrading other pax), and brought a manager on board after we had boarded who offered us drink vouchers, miles, etc. as a service recovery. All from me tweeting a picture of the insane lines. I’d say DL’s Twitter game is still right where I’d expect. 🙂

    I regularly still DM them to adjust bookings, too, especially if I need to rebook or protect flights while I’m in the air and only have access to WiFi and not a phone line. The DL folks are wizards, especially to elites with Twitter handles listed in their SkyMiles profiles.

  24. Hm. So good to know. Don’t bother tweeting, just dm to start with. I noticed Southwest lets you add a twitter handle to your profile too…actually saw that quite a while ago and added it at that time.

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