Sandy Goes Social When Airlines Are Grounded

Did airlines handle their customer care on Facebook and Twitter when hurricane Sandy took control?

Sandy Goes Social When Airlines Are Grounded

As the Caribbean and Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States recover from Hurricane Sandy, one of the most destructive “super storms” to record, it’s time to assess the damage. Although a low response rate on Facebook cannot compare to the losses of life and property, we decided to analyze how the most affected airlines managed their crisis communication across social networks. People are starting to see Facebook and Twitter as the ultimate source of live information, updates and tips, so it’s becoming a crucial platform for customer service.

Over 19 500 flights had to be cancelled and 2 million travelers were affected due to hurricane Sandy. Airlines had to reinforce their customer service online and offline to keep their customers informed about their flights, rebook or cancel their tickets. Now the question is: how well did they deliver? Let´s have a look at the Facebook and Twitter performance of Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Lufthansa, JetBlue Airways and US Airways – the biggest and most impacted airlines by hurricane Sandy. She made her move to the East coast over the weekend so we decided to gather data from Saturday October 27th, although as you will see, one of the airlines had even more foresight.

US Airways Ignored Their Facebook Fans

US Airways was the first airline to inform its fans and clients that the hurricane might affect their flight schedule. On October 23rd, they posted that they had relaxed the change fees for some Montego Bay and Jamaica flights due to tropical storm Sandy. US Airways also informed about any cancelled flights, issued and updated a travel advisory and advised its clients to change their flight online due to the high call volumes to their Reservations centers. The company updated information often and even posted a radio interview with their Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom about the impact of hurricane Sandy and the preparations that ensured the safety of their customers and employees.

But did they also take care of their customers addressing them via Facebook? US Airways managed to post helpful updates, but they would definitely not qualify as Socially Devoted. They didn’t answer any of the 37 questions posted to their timeline from October 27th 2012! They performed better on Twitter where they answered 48.12%, that’s 230 out of 478 tweets.

Southwest Airlines Took You Behind The Scenes But Didn’t Respond

Southwest Airlines posted their first Sandy update on Saturday October 27th and it offered travel accommodation for people traveling to/from chosen destinations. To see whether their flight had been affected, the airlines also posted an online travel advisory with a rebooking option. What sets them apart is the behind-the-scenes look at their Weather Disruption Task Force meeting several times a day to review the current status and forecast with their in-house meteorologists (photo below). They published only three Facebook posts, much fewer than US Airways did.

But more importantly, did they respond to the questions on Facebook? Not really, Southwest Airlines replied to only 8 out of 41 which is a 19.51% Response Rate (the minimum should be at least 65% to qualify as Socially Devoted) plus it took them more than 7 hours on average. It did even worse on Twitter achieving a rather sad 1.61% Response Rate, which means that they reacted to only 2 out of the 124 tweets.

American Airlines Delivered Best Customer Care On Twitter!

American Airlines mentioned the hurricane for the first time on Sunday October 28th 2012 by releasing their online travel policy. They have since updated their Facebook page with cancelled and resumed flights and have asked their customers to check their flight status and travel options via their website. American Airlines were also personal by saying that their thoughts are with everyone affected by the hurricane and that they hope everyone is safe and well.

But did they also make their customers feel safe and well on Facebook and Twitter? On Facebook, they answered 65.28% of the questions (47 out of 72) within about an hour and half on average. American airlines definitely managed better social customer care than US Airways and United over the past few days. The airline did even better on Twitter with a Response Rate of 84.67% which means they answered 602/ 711 tweets. And they did so very fast – in just 16 minutes on average! Way to go American Airlines!

United Provides Storm Relief But Little Customer Care

United airlines posted their first Sandy update on Friday October 26th 2012 and they concentrated most of the information about affected flights on their United Hub. What definitely stands out is that United joined partners, the American Red Cross, AmeriCares and Feeding America to help provide aid to those affected by Super storm Sandy on the East Coast and in the Midwest. The airline’s foundation decided to donate up to $50,000 to match donations from their customers and employees to these partner organizations.

This is great but did they also devote their time to posts and tweets from their confused and desperate customers? United answered only 20 out of 89 questions on Facebook (22.47%), which is not enough. Their Response time is a little bit better with an average of around two hours but they should have definitely invested more into their customer care. It´s a similar story on Twitter where United received even more questions. They replied to only 17.83% of the 544 tweets (but faster than on Facebook, in 45 minutes).

Lufthansa Delivered Best Customer Care On Facebook

The only European airline in our study, Lufthansa, informed its customers about the hurricane Sandy impact on Sunday 28th. Since then, they have posted links that directed their customers to their flight status system and their reservations center for rebooking purposes. Nothing interesting worth mentioning from the content side of their Facebook page, but Lufthansa proved to be the most devoted airline in our study. Lufthansa replied to 79.63% of the questions (43/54) in about an hour and half on average. They have performed a little bit worse but faster on Twitter where Lufthansa USA answered 69.75%.

JetBlue Airways Received The Most Tweets

JetBlue Airways first posted about Sandy on Saturday October 26th. Just like US Airways, this airline doesn’t charge additional fees in case people cancel or rebook their trip to/from affected regions. JetBlue seems to be overall very customer friendly also thanks to their list of tips on how customers can easily handle the situation released on their BlueTales blog. This blog also does a great job in the showing recovery efforts of the airline, with photos and more information on how the hurricane affected its operations and the estimated time of full recovery.

JetBlue received the most tweets of all the mentioned airlines and still managed to respond to 70.24% (550/ 783 tweets) in 18 minutes on average. They received fewer questions on Facebook, so it wasn’t hard to beat that Response Rate with a result of 78.57% (77/98 questions) within 48 minutes each.

Delta Confused Its Customers On Facebook

Delta was probably the last one to announce Sandy on Facebook and it did so in an unclear way. On Monday October 29th, they informed their fans that they will change the start of the Nonstop NYC contest to November 5th due to storm approaching the Northeast. Fans and customers got very confused and asked for clarification, how it relates to the possible change of flights etc. Delta had to explain that the post will not affect their flight, only postpone their chance to win two tickets for a trip from NYC to LA. But they still had a problem with understanding the purpose of the contest so it wasn’t communicated well at all. Delta didn’t offer any specific updates, just links, a behind the scenes photo and a capture of one of their airplanes asking customers for patience.

At least Delta replied to more than half of the questions on Facebook (41/67 is a 61.19% Response Rate) but we were less happy when we found out that they responded to only one tweet on Twitter from the 212 they received (a 0.47% Response Rate is extremely low).

The planes are flying again, and flights quickly returning to normal, but always check your airline’s Facebook page or Twitter for the latest information.

P.S.: Check our case study on how Norwegian airlines reacted to the airport´s employees strike here.

Staff Writer

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