I’m sure by know you have read the story of how Hasan Syed used Twitter to protest his dissatisfaction at the way British Airways responded to the loss of his father’s luggage on a trip from Chicago to Paris last weekend.
In the interests of accuracy and completeness, the passenger did not transit via Heathrow. He flew from Chicago to Newark on American Airlines, and from Newark to Paris on BA’s subsidiary OpenSkies.
Hasan spent close to $1,000 to promote a series of Tweets to alert users to his views on BA’s customer service failings:
British Airways was immediately on the back foot as its Twitter account only responds to Tweets during UK office hours on Monday to Friday.
The story was immediately picked up by the media and was one of the most read stories on the BBC News website on Tuesday.
From a journalistic point of view, I can understand the interest in this as a story. There is the ingenuity of Hasan Syed’s approach. There is also the natural appeal of the lone individual standing up against a large corporation. (That said, looking at the actual number of replies and retweets, this does not seem to be a story that has captured the imagination of the public at large.)
However, I find the approach excessive and disproportionate.
It is a fact of life that when travelling, occasionally things will not go to plan. When taking flights that involve a connection, there is always a risk that whilst you may make your connection, your luggage may not (and the overall risk is very low). And in the vast majority of cases when luggage misconnects, the passenger is reunited with their luggage in a couple of days (as was the case in this instance – and would have been the case regardless of the Twitter protest).
It is better to be prepared for such eventualities and remain sanguine when they do happen. In the case of luggage, not packing essential items in checked luggage, having a change of clothes in carry on luggage and travel insurance to cover any necessary purchases mitigates the impact of being without luggage for a day or so.
Furthermore, when dealing with airline and airport staff, whether in person, online or on the telephone, patience and basic manners will go a very long way.
That said, there are some lessons for British Airways.
For an airline with a worldwide operation and a very large number of customers originating from outside the UK, a Twitter account that operates only in office hours does seem slightly absurd.
Furthermore, the airline cleary needs to be more responsive in the era of social media where customer grievances are laid bare for all to see.
BA has found itself in some difficult media storms before (wildcat strikes by ground staff, heavy flight disruption due to fog/snow at Christmas, the chaotic opening of Terminal 5 etc). Hopefully, such events will not be repeated, but in an era where journalists have a minefield of information from their desktops to source stories, the airline will have to be better prepared and responsive to deal with potential social media storms.
In short, overall this is an interesting story, but not quite the game-changer for airline customer service it has been made out to be.