Story from The Takeaway. Listen to the audio above for the full report.
Having a flight canceled is usually a frustrating experience. And after Hurricane Irene, people across the country were stranded without flights. One of those stranded was Sitara Nieves, a producer for The Takeaway. "My flight was supposed to be on Saturday, and it got cancelled because of the hurricane," she says, "and I was told that I couldn't get another flight for another 8 days."
Her experience was typical of many around the country. "I called the airline 30 times to try to get a change," she recounts, "I was told that there was absolutely nothing that could be done."
Then, social media changed her situation. She "called, called called, got very very frustrated, and Tweeted about it." She recalls, "and within half an hour, the airline had gotten back to me over Twitter." Then, she says, "20 minutes later, I had a new flight booked for the next day."
Phone calls simply aren't working for many people who are trying to get through to airlines, according to Barbara Peterson, senior aviation correspondent at Condé Nast Traveler. "The airlines have cut way back on the kind of staff that would be answering those calls." She says that "sometimes you'd wait on hold for 30 minutes or an hour, and then you'd be cut off, which is really adding insult to injury."
Social media, on the other hand, is a new way to get through. "They're starting to pay attention to this," Peterson says. If something were to go viral on the internet, it could seriously hurt an airline's reputation.
Surveys found that many airlines were responding within minutes to Twitter updates during the hurricane. Peterson says that many times, they responded "certainly much faster than they would normally to a phone call."
Peterson recalls the story of one family who lost a cat in JFK airport. They then put up a Facebook page about their lost pet. Peterson says, "the airline has since been inundated with hundreds if not thousands of complaints."
"Social media would seem to be tailor made for this situation," Peterson says. "It definitely is a way to get attention."
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.