How travelers can complain effectively with social media

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012
Courtesy <a href="" target="_blank">respres/Flickr</a>

When something goes wrong on your vacation, it can be difficult to get anyone accountable to talk to you on the phone. If it's an urgent problem, try contacting the company via a social media tool instead. One savvy message on a company's Facebook page or one clever "tweet" can snowball and draw the attention of a travel company's highest officials. Your problem may be solved much faster.

Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America, Marriott, Starwood, Travelocity, Expedia, and Hertz are all major companies that have staff members rapidly reacting to social media messages.

Delta, for instance, monitors online messages constantly—including in-flight complaints posted by passengers using on-board Wi-Fi. Recently, Noelle Sadler griped on Twitter about Delta not giving her frequent flier miles for a qualifying flight on partner airline Avianca, reports the WSJ. The airline quickly gave her the frequent-flier miles. Happy ending.

The following tips may boost your chances of getting your voice heard.

Sign up

You got to play to win. It's free to join social network Facebook and micro-blogging service Twitter.

Facebook is best for travelers who don't use social media much

It's quick to use Facebook to voice a complaint. But remember that companies respond online to people who say they're fans of their brand. I know, it sounds confusing, but you'll be more effective by "liking" a company on Facebook before you speak up about something it did wrong. On Facebook, search for the name of the major brand you most often do business with when traveling. Then click "like." Then complain.

If you have more than a thousand followers, Twitter will get faster results than Facebook

For urgent problems, you may get a faster response by tweeting. Case in point on how to use Twitter in a crisis, courtesy of travel journalist extraordinaire Christopher Elliott: When Jessica Gottlieb learned that her kids were trapped on the tarmac in an endlessly delayed Virgin America plane, she used her Web-enabled cell phone to "tweet" about her troubles: "Dear Virgin Air," she wrote via "My children have been on the tarmac for one hour with 90 more minutes to wait. I am at JFK gate b25. Pls RT." Reports Elliott:

"That last request—please "RT"—is shorthand for Gottlieb's thousands of followers to "retweet" her message, or rebroadcast it to their followers. And retweet they did. Within minutes, Virgin had phoned Gottlieb to reassure her that her kids would be fine. "They contacted the gate agent manager and explained to us the entire weather situation," she says. "Within 20 minutes of that conversation, the plane took off."

Stay upbeat

Your grandmother was right. You'll attract more bees with honey than with vinegar. Be polite for the best responses. And if an airline, hotel, or other travel company does solve your problem, be sure to broadcast it to the world, too.

Do a quick search before you try to contact a company through social media

The technology is still new, and some travel companies still aren't listening to conversations on social media. Before you invest time in reaching out to a company online, look at its Facebook or Twitter pages and see if they seem active or like ghost towns.


New to Twitter? Go from zero to hero in no time flat with this Twitter tools for beginners page.

Curious about how to find the Twitter page for a particular travel company? Google the word Twitter followed by the brand's name, such as "twitter delta".


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