Hit a travel snag and hoping to hash it out on the horn? Hang up and take it to Twitter! You may find your airline to be just a smidgen more compassionate when the whole twitterverse is watching. Of course, that's not the case with every airline. Some carriers barely have a Twitter presence while others are much more active and eager to please. Where does your airline stand? Here's a sampling of recent tweets and the airline's responses.
|BROWSER GRADES AND COMMENTS:
|"We expect our agents to be kind and courteous. Sorry to hear you experienced otherwise and that your travel was impacted, Paula."
|A flurry of questions answered by busy but friendly reps who can be remarkably solution oriented and often quite swift at the follow-up.
|A+ If you want to get American’s attention, this is a great way to do it, whether you have a legitimate issue or just need to vent. Of all the airlines, this one feels most like a support group, in a good way. Beware, though; other customers keep the on-duty Tweeters busy enough that you may have to wait your turn.
|"We hate hearing this. I'm terribly sorry for the disservice. If there's something we can do to help, please let us know."
|Delta hasn't exactly been on top of the whole Twitter thing in the past; it still seems like it's always struggling to keep up.
|C This committed complaint feed, spun off from the airline's main Twitter account, feels like a walk through a busy triage unit. We see very few positive follow-ups. Delta still hasn't figured out how to keep the tone light even when everything's terrible, the way American has done.
|"The delay on Flight 428 is due to a mechanical issue that's being addressed. The new estimated departure time is 10:10."
|The most popular airline feed currently – with more than 1.7 million followers – stays busy.
|A Right up there with American; reps often go into detailed, friendly conversations with passengers, who tweet a variety of questions. If you ever are just stuck on the tarmac and want to know what's going on, for example, chances are good they'll let you know within minutes.
|"Lawrence, this is three no bueno messages. Not how we do it. What flight are you on? Would LUV to investigate."
|Nearly 1.5 million people follow Southwest, but there isn't a massive amount of interaction – much of the problem solving and general chatting happens off-site on reps' own Twitter accounts.
|B It's probably a testament to Southwest's relative predictability, but much of the SWA-related chatter on Twitter is either positive or at least not damaging. We like the personal service offered by the representatives, who reach out from their own accounts directly to consumers on matters as simple as "Will my plane have WiFi?"
|"Sorry for the delay, it was due to air traffic control. Do you need help getting rebooked?"
|United's crew keeps busy with scores of questions coming in throughout the day, doing their best to help.
|A- A slightly less breezy / reassuring tone than you'll find on the American or JetBlue feeds, very business like. Still, fairly fast on the uptake and generally eager to reach a resolution.
|"We're having a blast at #SXSW!"
|Very much the Virgin experience – bright, shiny, wants to be your friend, until you actually need something.
|D Virgin "won't address specific guest service issues on Twitter." For that, they want you to call or write. You can still tweet questions at them, but they'll nearly always ask you to follow and send them a direct message, to keep the conversation private.
|"Check out these ultra-low fares on last minute flights."
|You already know not to expect much from the airline – same goes for their Twitter presence.
|F Their feed is a dead zone. For some cheap entertainment, though, search Twitter for mentions of the airline. Hilarious. Much of it unprintable.
|"I am very happy we could help make your evening better. Have a safe flight."
|Like the airline itself late in its life, a little bit of a rubber band and paperclip operation, at least in feeling.
|C+ A lot of pat answers and steering customers towards the official complaint form on their web site – not all that much helpfulness or placating of angry passengers going on. "Thanks for the lame answer," griped one passenger recently, after receiving the brush-off from a representative.
|"I'm sorry that you're upset. Please contact our Consumer Affairs Office to contest the charge."
|Well-meaning but not terribly rushed and often a little less than intuitive. (Anyone who's been to Hawaii will recognize this style of service.)
|C- If you tweet something positive, they're all smiles and all over you, otherwise manage your expectations. They'll direct message you if you request it – sometimes they'll offer. A mixed bag, really.
|"We love the smell of jet fuel in the morning."
|These guys definitely have your back, or at least try to.
A Very good service – lots of following up, lots of checking into specific details for passengers, less platitudes / empty cheerfulness. Efficient.