That's where Tony Amrich and his team come in.
"It's not like you're visiting the doctor's office," said Amrich, manager of social media guest services for Virgin America. "You're going on a trip. It should be exciting and it should be sexy and it should be enjoyable. In the same way it's fun on the flight, it should be fun when you're talking to somebody that's working our Twitter."
As the official voices of @VirginAmerica, the team's goal is to respond in under 15 minutes, but according to Amrich, staffers are usually able to reply in less than five. They have nearly 435,000 followers, and he estimates they send about 50,000 tweets a year, handling everything from seat changes to snack requests. And many of those tweets come from 35,000 feet.
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"Maybe you're mad. Maybe you're not. Maybe you just want something to be different," said Amrich. "But you can talk to us right there, from the plane, using our WiFi. We can actually message the plane and figure out what's going on and fix it for you right there. This is letting us do everything in real time."
Employees are continuously monitoring Twitter for suggestions and feedback from customers—that's how the HBO series "Girls" was added to inflight entertainment. One promotion, Fly Like a Boss, encouraged business passengers to tweet their experiences on Virgin America; those tweets then populated digital billboards.
Another had passengers voting on their favorite cocktails, with the winners making it on the menu. And then there's #nerdbird, a playful nod to Twitter and Silicon Valley culture: a plane named with a hashtag.
Virgin America has built up its social media presence over time. The company was on Twitter before it had a single plane in the sky, and it's become increasingly important to the carrier's business.
"We use Twitter at three points in our basic marketing strategy: at the awareness level, the purchase level and the customer care level," said Luanne Calvert, Virgin America's vice president of marketing and communications. "We want people to share their experiences. We like that it's live-time, that it's immediate. But that's probably even more important when we want to use Twitter to generate revenue. For example, if we have empty seats available for the weekend, we can use Twitter as a way to push a fare sale at the last minute."