Airline Customer Service on Social Media Done Badly


Earlier this year I was invited to speak with airlines, hotels and other loyalty programs about their online interactions and how to make sure that their engagements on Social Media are meaningful (among other things). In that session – and in many other discussions I’ve had lately – I’ve talked about how engagement is more than just being quick to respond. Context matter far more than speed. At least it should. And then, a couple weeks ago, this importance was brought in to stark contrast as I watched, and then participated in, a debacle of an interaction on Twitter.

It started simply enough: A mechanical delay and a frustrated passenger facing a missed connection:

The initial response is boiler-plate material. Of course safety is important but that’s not what the customer is focused on. And when the discussion progressed it became clear that @AmericanAir wasn’t really interested in helping. It was more about deflecting blame.

Eventually the decision was made to cut off engagement altogether. Clearly the conversation had gotten away from @AmericanAir.

This was 2 hours later, as the passenger had watched alternate flights depart without her on board. And she was still working to get rebooked with an agent over the phone.

Also, for those who are still unclear on the rule in play here, AA has an explicit policy where they will treat separate tickets on oneworld partners as though they are single tickets. This is an official benefit unique to AA and one which, apparently, is not so easy to convince them of. But it really does exist.

Yes, the rebooking was completed eventually. But not without all the bad information shared. And, unfortunately, not even really acknowledgement of the mistakes or an apology for the errors. That’s where the real value of customer engagement comes in to play.

So the passenger was eventually mostly made mostly whole, though they lost the return half of the separate ticket after no-showing in Dublin. But here’s the worst part:

Yup…the replies were quick and the company replied to nearly every mention. So when someone runs a report at some point in the future @AmericanAir will score highly. For doing its job poorly.

Just to be clear, this is not solely an American Airlines issue. I’ve seen (and participated in) similar misses with JetBlue, Delta and United Airlines, among others, and included them in the presentation I gave back in April (images below). The rules are complicated and employees have trouble keeping up. Just another reason for simplifying the programs and rules.

JetBlue is quick & friendly but got the answer wrong
JetBlue is quick & friendly but got the answer wrong
Delta replied in less than 10 minutes with bad info
Delta replied in less than 10 minutes with bad info
United misses big on this one; fortunately it got corrected
United misses big on this one; fortunately it got corrected

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

15 Comments

  1. I read to the bottom and was surprised by the abrupt ending of the post…was expecting suggestions or something.

    1. I wish I had suggestions for travelers, other than to keep going when you think you’re getting a bad answer. Unfortunately the carriers are often just making a lot of noise where they could be more helpful to travelers. I’m pushing on the airlines themselves where I can. But I’m only one voice, albeit an occasionally loud one, in this space.

  2. I’m not sure your entry into the conversation helped much, especially with a slightly combative attitude. It seemed to put the AA twitter team on the defensive (starting your tweet w “But will you admit..” will do that for you), and diverted attention away from her potential misconnect.

    You could have pointed out the relevant oneworld policy right off the bat. So, she could have more information when talking to AA herself. I don’t see what’s wrong with AA cutting you off, since you were not traveling with her.

    1. I did point out the policy several times; the full conversation isn’t in the tweets here but gives enough to go find it. By the time AA’s Twitter team admitted the mistake (such as they did, which is badly) the passenger was already getting it fixed elsewhere. Because the online support was so bad.

      I don’t object completely to them cutting me off. But, at the same time, admitting a mistake and apologizing goes a long way. They never really did that. I was enlisted by the traveler to help and the company pushed me away. That’s not the right way to help a distressed passenger.

      1. And in AA’s defense…
        I was on the flight from DUB (Cynthia was on the flight to DUB) – so my flight was delayed 8 hours because of the inbound delay. As soon as I realized it was delayed that much, I reached out to them via Twitter and had a very good, successful two-way interaction. My connection was rebooked with input from me as far as my preferred flight time, etc. I’m not sure that would have happened with UA/DL/etc.

        IMO, the policy of treating two tickets as one is relatively obscure, and not common among airlines. Perhaps that is why AA gave out erroneous info.

        1. I’ve had UA and DL and B6 make similar changes for me via DM before. They all can do it, though the level to which they offer up such will vary.

          And, yes, this is a relatively obscure rule. All the more reason the agents need to know it. Everyone can figure out the basic stuff pretty easily. At a minimum the people working the support line should be willing and able to take documentation from their own website and act on it promptly rather than pushing back.

          Social can be a great outlet for customer service. But the companies need to be consistently perfect. And these are far from it. I picked a specific example here because it is one I got involved in, but I see many others scrolling by as I sit online. This is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident.

  3. My own experience of AA on Twitter has been excellent. They are definitely my “go to” on delayed / misconnecting flights. They have, several times, protected me / rebooked me while I’ve still been on the ground on a tarmac delay.

    Now, recently I was trying to rebook my son using their twitter account (while he was in a rebooking line at an airport for over two hours). Unfortunately their policy won’t let them actually take action unless the person on the booking is tweeting them. Fair enough, and good to know in future.

  4. How about when a social media team enforces a policy that’s in direct violation of DOT rules? Any recourse other than filing a DOT complaint?

    1. Without further details it is hard to know what you mean. But, generally speaking, the Social Media teams do not enforce any policies. Assuming there was a violation then going through the DoT complaint process is the way to handle it.

  5. Sorry, I should have clarified. AA doesn’t offer 24 hour courtesy holds for US Air flights booked on AA.com. After booking I wanted to cancel and rebook as a better routing had opened up for the same price. I was advised on multiple fronts that it was nonrefundable, despite travel being well over a week away (DOT sets a 7+ day threshold for 24 hour rule) and the ticket being booked less than 24 hours ago. This was all said to me after they confirmed that US Air flights cannot be put on 24 hour courtesy hold either by phone or on AA.com.

    “This guidance also clarifies that the Department’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings … considers the failure to notify such consumers of the 24-hour reservation requirement to be unfair and deceptive in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 41712. It also considers the failure to offer a passenger a full refund in the original form of payment in the event of a cancellation request covered by the 24-hour reservation requirement to be an unfair and deceptive practice.”

    https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/Notice_24hour_hold_final20130530.pdf

  6. Can you post a link to the AA policy for accommodation on OW flights? I was certain I’d seen it on their website before but couldn’t find it when I looked last week.

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