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Hurricane Irene: How long did it take to reach your airline? [Updated]

August 29, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • A survey conducted by StellaService shows how quickly airlines responded to tweets about Hurricane Irene travel plans.
A survey conducted by StellaService shows how quickly airlines responded… (StellaService blog )

Anyone whose travel plans were scuttled by Hurricane Irene likely spent time trying to contact his or her airline, but how long did that take? StellaService, which rates customer service quality, spent some time trying to quantify just how well airlines did in customer support.

On Friday before the hurricane slammed the East Coast, the company called each airline eight times and tweeted them 12 times to test their responsiveness to fliers who were just plain anxious about how the storm would affect their itineraries.

[Updated at 3:35 p.m., Aug. 30: United Airlines/Continental Airlines andAmerican Airlines dispute the StellaService survey and their responses have been added to this post.]

--By phone:US Airways got to customers quickest with an average hold time of two minutes and 38 seconds. Southwest, Continental and United came in second through fourth, respectively, with hold times of less than 13 minutes. Delta (33 minutes and 43 seconds) andAmerican Airlines (one hour and 32 minutes) kept passengers waiting the longest.

--ByTwitter: Delta responded to all of the test tweets in an average 14 minutes each whileAirTran, American, Continental and United didn't respond to any of them. Frontier responded to all its tweets in an average four hours each. And US Airways, which was quickest via phone, answered just 16% of the tweets in an average 24 minutes each.

--Overall:JetBlue emerged as the quickest tweet responder (11 minutes each on average) and kept callers waiting an average of just 24 minutes.

And here's something else the survey noted in the social media realm:

"Delta ... personalized itsTwitter support by denoting the initials of the specific agent at Delta who replied to each tweet. This is time saving and convenient in the event the issue needed to be taken to the phones and that agent’s name could be referenced as someone who was already aware of the problem / issue."

Of course, none of this is scientific. It doesn't account for bigger versus smaller airlines, which may have less phone/Twitter traffic, nor which airlines better handled customer problems. But I think it underscores the importance of using all avenues -- phone,Facebook,Twitter -- to connect with airlines when you are in crisis and need swift action.

Check out the rest of the stats at the StellaService blog.

Response from United/Continental:

"STELLAService sent 12 Tweets to our inactive @Continental handle, and we replied to six of those from our active @United account. A short time later, we saw the same 12 questions submitted to the @United handle. STELLAService’s assertion is that we didn’t reply to any of the questions they submitted to @United, which is only true because we had already answered the identical questions they submitted to @continental. Had we not answered the questions they tweeted to our inactive @continental handle, we would have replied to the questions they tweeted to our active @United handle, just as we replied to more than 200 other customer inquiries on Twitter."
--Rahsaan Johnson, director of public relations,  United Airlines / Continental Airlines

Response from American Airlines:

"We disagree with the findings of the study. We believe it is highly inaccurate and based on an insufficient sample size –- eight calls and 12 tweets on average -- that skewed results and does not represent reality. We handled more than 100,000 calls on Friday, and during the period in question our customers waited an average of 21 minutes, far less than alleged and in line with most of our peers. Our response time for AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold customers averaged from 30 seconds to less than three minutes per call. Of the 78 tweets directed to us from Thursday through Sunday, a significant number of which did not request action, we responded to 46 tweets either publicly or privately to assist customers, and we also sent four proactive tweets with travel information related to the storm. Each day, and especially in times of service disruption, we make responding to and informing our customers – whether through social or other traditional direct channels – our highest priority."--Ryan Mikolasik, spokesman for American Airlines

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