Delta lacks personal touch in early outage response

The airline drew unfavorable comparisons with Southwest Airlines' reaction to a nationwide glitch last month.

(Image via Delta's Facebook page).
(Image via Delta's Facebook page).

ATLANTA: Delta Airlines is relying on its corporate newsroom and social media accounts to disseminate information to customers and the press after a power outage stranded thousands of travelers worldwide.

Delta had released four statements on its news hub as of press time on Monday morning, the most recent posted at 10:40 a.m. EST, saying the airline had cancelled about 300 flights. Two hours earlier, Delta announced that its ground stop was lifted and limited departures has resumed, though cancellations and delays persisted.

"We apologize to customers who are affected by this issue, and our teams are working to resolve the problem as quickly as possible," the airline said in a statement.

A corporate communications spokesman at Delta referred all inquiries to its online corporate newsroom.

Delta first made the public aware of the outage in a statement posted online at 5:05 a.m. EST, urging customers to check the status of their flights before leaving for the airport. About an hour later, its News Hub Twitter account sent out a tweet on the matter. The company also issued a flight waiver.

The airline then began communicating about the problem more broadly through its main Twitter handle, which has more than 1.19 million followers, compared with the News Hub’s 103,000.

Delta’s follow-up tweets lacked a "personal touch," said Ashley McCown, president of Solomon McCown & Company, a firm with offices in Boston and New York that specializes in crisis communications.

"What I’ve seen so far is an impersonal response with basic notifications across Twitter," McCown said. "You’d hope to see more compassion and an expression of sympathy for the thousands that have been stranded. People may be missing family gatherings and business meetings."

McCown compared the outage to a glitch suffered by Southwest Airlines last month. However, that airline’s communications team leveraged all its platforms, including a blog it launched the same day and live broadcasts on social media.

Issuing a mea culpa, Southwest was apologetic as its CEO made the media rounds for its second-quarter 2016 earnings. The airline also highlighted its employees’ efforts to show compassion for stranded customers, including throwing a birthday party for one who wasn’t able to make it home in time because of delays.

"We really pride ourselves on the level of customer service we offer — it’s part of our distinctive brand— and we didn’t do that," Southwest chief communications officer Linda Rutherford said last month. "First and foremost, we wanted our customers to understand we’re sorry. This isn’t the way we do business. And we have to make things right."

While McCown said she doubted the outage would affect Delta’s bottom line over the long run – the airline reported a $42 million increase in year-over-year pre-tax profit for the quarter ending in June – she said its communications approach will affect its perception.

"But the day’s not over yet," McCown said. "How long this stays a hot, trending story depends, in part, on how they treat their customers. I hope they’re formulating a change in tone and content."

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