Some Airlines Soar on Twitter; Others Remain Grounded

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By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 27, 2009

Attention, passengers: This is your airline Twittering.

Yeah, like everybody else. But in the cramped, bandwidth-starved confines of airport concourses and airplanes, Twitter -- available not just on Web-connected cellphones ( but even on those that handle only text messaging -- can help airlines and passengers talk to each other.

As a result, some airlines can't seem to shut up on the popular site, which allows users to publish short updates to the Web. Others, however, haven't printed their Twitter boarding passes just yet.

To see what's possible, read Southwest Airlines' Twitter feed ( The output of possibly overcaffeinated "emerging media" specialist Christi Day, these updates add up to a digital analogue of Southwest's chatty flight attendants. On one day in August, Day fired off 11 messages, known as tweets, covering such issues as a gate agent's cranky behavior, Southwest job openings and a passenger's in-flight meltdown that led to his taking off his clothes. (Day's update about that began: "Bare Facts.")

JetBlue ( has more than a million people following its updates, thanks in part to its inclusion on Twitter's list of suggested feeds. The airline touts such promotions as August's $599 "All You Can Jet" sale, warns about potential delays and answers some customer queries. It now posts Web-only fare deals on a second feed:

Virgin America, like Southwest and JetBlue, began using Twitter early on ( to respond to customers, and its fleet-wide WiFi access allows for real-time interactions. In July, spokeswoman Abby Lunardini recounted how a passenger Twittered in-flight about attendants ignoring him: "We sent a message to the plane and alerted the crew -- and he was served."

Alaska Airlines ( also uses Twitter for customer service, with most of its posts replying to complaints, questions and comments.

The industry's mainline carriers, however, have been a little slower to join the conversation on Twitter.

United Airlines, for example, surfaced only in May ( Most of its updates consist of announcements of new promotions, trivia contests and "Tware" Web-only fares, with relatively few replies to customers' tweets; spokeswoman Robin Urbanski suggested in an e-mail that "picking up the phone . . . is often still the best way to go."

American Airlines was beaten to Twitter by an impostor who wrote as "AmericanAir." Its own account ( doesn't have such an obvious moniker. But it's a useful source for updates on the airline's deployment of in-flight WiFi and such promotions as a Twitter-only offer of one-day passes to its Admirals Club frequent-flier lounges (which now have their own AdmiralsClub Twitter account).

Continental Airlines signed up for Twitter ( just in time for its ExpressJet affiliate to strand 47 passengers on a regional jet overnight -- not the news a company would want to note in its second update ever. Since then, this airline has begun to deliver a consistent mix of posts about weather issues, company news and customer queries. (Sample post: "Typically more chicken is boarded than beef; depends on market. Latin flts have more beef.")

Delta Air Lines, however, looks confused on Twitter. It has let a widely read Twitter account ( go stale, with no updates since June 17, while a newer, actively updated account (, with about 700 followers, has yet to come across most travelers' radar screens. Publicist Susan West e-mailed that the airline is "currently evaluating" Twitter.

Spirit Airlines ( posts nothing but fare discounts, and Frontier Airlines ( began mixing in replies to Twitter queries with its promotional messages only a few weeks ago.

AirTran and US Airways appear to have accounts but haven't posted anything in months. Perhaps as a result, Twitter's leading source of information about the latter airline may be a former employee who posts as "usairwaysgirl" (

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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