When Tyler Bryant’s flight on American Airlines was canceled earlier this week, the Nashville musician and his travel partner rented a Dodge muscle car.
“@americanair couldn’t get us home, so we rented a fast car,” Bryant wrote on Twitter, where under the handle @thetyler bryant he also posted a photo of himself with arms crossed next to the sports car. “It’s all about the ride.”
American could have ignored the innocuous tweet, but these days that’s not the Fort Worth-based airline’s style.
Instead, a member of American’s social media team sent a reply to Bryant offering to check whether he is eligible for a partial refund, and asked him to respond with a direct message including his travel itinerary.
“If there’s an unused portion of your trip due to a delay on our end, then we can take a closer look,” the airline wrote on Bryant’s feed, using the Twitter handle @americanair. “DM your record locator.”
Social media is now one of the most popular ways for travelers to contact airlines about delayed flights, missing luggage and other challenges that come up during a trip.
American Airlines now has a social media team on duty around the clock at the company’s Fort Worth headquarters. The team interacts with customers about 4,500 times per day on social media — and a majority of that activity is on Twitter, an official said.
Southwest Airlines also has a strong presence on Twitter and Facebook — the two platforms that travelers seem to use most often when an issue surfaces in the middle of a trip — and also is active on Instagram and YouTube.
When attorney and author Rabia O’Chaudry posted on her Twitter account (@rabiasquared) about a flight attendant forcibly taking a cup of ice water from her 2-year-old child’s hand, Southwest’s social media staff sent a response.
“Oh no! That’s definitely not what we like to hear, Rabia,” Southwest wrote using its handle, @southwestair. “We’d like to look into this for you. Would you mind DMing us your confirmation number, and any additional details you might have about your experience? -Tayler.”
Southwest has a small social media team at its Dallas headquarters, spokesman Derek Hubbard said.
“Our use of social media has evolved over the years, as we continue to see our customers look to social media to connect with us,” Hubbard said in an email. “Social media was always designed to allow people to connect with one another, and we love the opportunity to connect with our customers on this level.”
Still, Southwest considers social media to be a complement to — not a replacement for — its toll-free customer service phone number, 1-800-I-FLY-SWA.
At American, the social media team is on duty 24 hours per day, with its own seating area on the “bridge” of the company’s command center in Fort Worth — a building known as the Integrated Operations Center that opened in 2015.
The airline didn’t set out to make Twitter its preferred method of communicating with customers. Instead, the customers themselves have fostered the relationship over the past several years by mentioning @americanair in their tweets, and American has responded by putting more resources into making the relationship work in both directions.
“Now they just see this as another form of customer service,” Annette Hernandez, American senior manager for social customer service, said during a February tour of American’s headquarters.
Of course, providing customer service on social media doesn’t always work.
On Wednesday, a Twitter user named Brian Killips (@bpkillips) posted a photo of his knees bumping up against an airplane seat and wrote: “I love that airlines, such as @AmericanAir make sure tall people have zero leg room on flights. Of course, I could pay more to fit in a seat simply because I am tall.”
American’s social media team replied: “Main Cabin Extra seats can be purchased in advance for extra leg room. See more info at: bit.ly/AA_MCE.”
But then @bpkillips retorted: “That is my point ... I am penalized for being tall. I have to pay more money just to fit in a seat.”
American’s social media team, trained not to engage in online conversations that could become argumentative, didn’t take the conversation any further.