Dan Parks was not a happy camper. Understandably so – the Victoria, BC-based meeting planner was stranded at the Seattle airport on a Friday morning, so close to home after a trip to the Caribbean, and yet so far away, thanks to a missed connection, which he blamed on his airline.

Told it could be up to 10 hours before Horizon Air could get him across the water to Victoria, Parks did what any modern traveler would do. He pulled out his phone, and began to tweet.

“At the Seattle airport - ANOTHER comedy of ERRORS from Alaska / Horizon Airlines. Wish I had a NICKLE for every misrepresentation.”

Then, a couple of hours later:

“So this error today at Horizon Air is going to cost us 10 hours of our life. Please shoot me if I fly or recommend this airline again.”

Within minutes, a staffer monitoring Twitter for mentions of Horizon Air was addressing Parks directly; he explained his predicament, gave the representative his details and location, asked for a manager to come speak with him and, within another couple hours, was on his way.

“Getting on a flight home! Big props to @horizonair for all your assistance in making it happen!”

It didn’t stop there. Where just a week ago he’d been stamping all his tweets with the dreaded “#FAIL” hash-key, now he was singing Horizon’s praises to his 30,000-plus followers.

“I was VERY impressed how quickly they responded,” he tweeted, just days after the debacle. “I felt I had someone who CARED. We need to see that more often.”

Parks didn’t respond to a query for more details on his complaint, though his experience is actually a fairly common example of how Twitter works these days. Customers frustrated with unhelpful airline representatives behind desks at airports, or long waits on customer service phone lines are increasingly turning to the very public medium of Twitter with their complaints. 

In the time it took you to get through to a customer service representative, you could have tweeted your question or comment. And, depending on the airline, you might have already received your answer.

180 airlines now tweet, so give it a try

A whopping 180 airlines are now tweeting, according to Sydney, Australia-based SHIFT Interactive, a new media strategy company that founded the site, AirlinesonTwitter.com,  a one-stop shop for those interested in tracking airline feeds. With millions of followers, airlines are discovering that the faster they stop negativity in its tracks, the better.

Look, for example, at the case of film director Kevin Smith, who was confronted onboard a Southwest Airlines flight from Oakland to Burbank last month by crew who’d deemed him to fat to fly.

Angered, Smith went straight to Twitter. Within minutes, the airline was receiving queries from Smith’s fans, asking the airline how they intended to handle the situation. The airline assured them that they were investigating the matter and would make sure it was resolved.

“I read every single tweet that comes into this account,” said the airline representative on duty, “and take every tweet seriously. We’ll handle @thatkevinsmith issue asap.”

It did, as best it could – Southwest does, after all, have an extremely clear policy regarding one seat, one customer, a policy the airline insisted that Smith already knew. Still, it apologized publicly for the way Smith’s situation was handled, and issued him a $100 travel voucher for the inconvenience. 

More see Rating the Feeds: How 6 major airline work with Twitter

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