If you've ever had a bad flight or sat in an airport for hours waiting to take off and decided to rant about a your experience on Twitter or Facebook, a new study shows those complaints are being heard.
The analysis is important since social media has become a preferred method for customers to interact with airlines, especially when they are in the midst of a bad experience.
Conversocial, a software firm that works with airlines and tracks social media interaction by carriers around the world, says North American airlines are more responsive than airlines in Europe with 9 in 10 carriers in North America responding to at least half of the mentions targeting the company on social media.
"It has really become the natural way for the social mobile traveler to engage with an airline and so everyone has recognized that, but there is a pretty wide disparity in terms of the actual performance that these airlines are really giving," said Joshua March CEO of Conversocial.
Among the largest U.S. airlines, two carriers stand out for how they interact with customers on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.
Alaska Airlines is the fastest at reacting to social media mentions with an average response time of 2 minutes, 34 seconds, according to Conversocial. The average response time for airlines in North America is 1 hour, 5 minutes.
Conversocial ranks Southwest Airlines as the most responsive U.S. airline with a response of some fashion 43 percent of the time it was mentioned on social media sites. The study finds airlines in North America respond, on average, to just 24 percent of the social media comments posted every day.
At Southwest Airlines' social media center in Dallas, the constant flow of on-line posts mentioning the low-cost airline are watched 24 hours a day. Every month, the airline is named in an average of 86,000 tweets and Facebook posts. Some, like those that praise a flight crew, may not get a response from the social media team. By comparison, the social media posts where customers complain about a canceled flight, poor service or some other problem become a priority for the Southwest team.
"The approach is. 'Really, how can we help? What is going on? Give us some information and let's see what we can do to straighten this out,'" said Lisa Goode, Southwest's senior director of social business. "Usually we can resolve it, help them, get them the information."
Goode and her team have been tested this year. In July, when a computer outage led to Southwest scrapping 2,300 flights, the airlines social media team wound up dealing with 93,000 social media messages over four days.
"A lot of what we did was go out and post proactively just to say we are still working on it, here is what we are looking to do, here is where you need to go and get your information."said Goode.
In some cases, there may be only so much airline social media teams can do when a customer complains. If a flight is delayed for mechanical reasons, social media teams cannot fix the plane, but they can give passengers up-to-date information and try to ease their frustration.
So what's the best approach the next time you have a complaint and feel frustration with an airline building?
"Don't just use this as an opportunity to vent," said March. "You can actually use this as a channel to really resolve your issue. Send them (the airline) a private message, give them more details and I think you would be pleasantly surprised at just how many airlines have invested into this."