Airlines turn to social media in midst of volcanic ash crisis

As ash from an Icelandic volcano continues to ground flights to and from Europe, social media has emerged as the essential tool for airlines to communicate with customers.

As ash from an Icelandic volcano continues to ground flights to and from Europe, social media has emerged as the essential tool for airlines to communicate with customers.

Since flights were grounded on April 15, affected airlines have turned to social media, and in particular Twitter, to communicate directly with their stranded customers, who in turn have retweeted these messages to thousands of followers. United Airlines and British Airways are just two of the many airlines that have been employing Twitter to resolve customer issues.

“This crisis has allowed social media to come of age in the aviation industry,” noted Gene Grabowski, SVP of Levick Strategic Communications and chair of its crisis and litigation practice. “Up until now, social media was used as a competitive advantage by airlines, but this is the first universal test of using it as a means of communication and it seems to have worked because passengers are showing remarkable patience and understanding.”

Since the crisis broke, airlines have used social media alongside more traditional communication tactics such as Web site updates and toll-free numbers to connect with both customers and the media at large.

John Lampl, VP of communications for British Airways, said, “The flight ban is something we have no control over and the main message we want to get out is that we want our customers to keeping checking our Web site as we are continually updating information.”

Robin Urbanski, media relations manager at United Airlines agreed, and added, “Most customers understand that we are eager to resume our regular schedule as soon as possible.”

Grabowski said that airlines should be reiterating that this is a situation beyond their control, and that they are also victims as they are losing money.

“The news media has also been a lot more favorable to airlines during this crisis and for the most part passengers haven't been blaming the airlines," he noted. "This shows that now, more than ever, social media is showing its value – this volcano has been the watershed test.”

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