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A bigger role for social media

Social media will play a bigger role in giving passengers real-time information across the journey.

It looks like passengers, airlines and airports all have a keen eye on bringing the power of social media to bear across every step of the journey.

Figures from SITA’s IT Trends Surveys of passengers, airlines and airports make it clear that social media as a force in travel is continuing to rise, not just for communications but also for industry operations and customer service.


Asked how often they use social media for real-time flight information services, such as notifications, 31% of respondents to the 2014 Passenger IT Trends Survey said they did so ‘regularly’.

Brazil, Indonesia, India and Turkey saw a high response around the 50% mark, compared to Europe’s much lower levels of 19% and less.

When thing go wrong, nearly 30% would ‘definitely expect’ support via social media, while 38% said that would be ‘nice to have’.

The point is, social media is becoming embedded in the psyche of passengers and the industry at large.

Passenger use

Earlier Passenger IT Trends Survey figures show how much international passengers use social media as they travel. Nearly 60% say they do, with highest proportions found in airports outside Europe and North America, such as at Abu Dhabi and Beijing.


Prominent aviation blogger Mary Kirby, aka @Runway Girl has written about the value of social media while traveling. For one thing, she says it can be a useful distraction during flights for people with a fear of flying.

Renowned social media guru Shashank Nigam cites the importance of not treating social media as a marketing afterthought, but as a critical part of the business.

What’s clear is that the value of social media will grow as a part of the business and as passengers expect to use it for travel planning and for making recommendations during their journeys.


SITA’s surveys show that passengers also plan to use social media to share travel details and itineraries, seek out offers and purchase other travel services.

That includes sharing problems about airline service on social media in real time. Many connected travelers may be unlikely to inform flight attendant about problems with services but they may well take to social media to air their grievances. (See ‘The real-time journey.’)

Airline plans

So what about airlines’ social media intentions? The Airline IT Trends Survey – which represents airlines that carry over 50% of the world’s passenger traffic – finds that their plans are big.

Some 86% of airlines offer or plan to offer services through social media. Over 90% of them want to increase personalization.

By the end of 2017, social media will be used for promotions by 86% of airlines.  At the same time, 80% will offer flights status notifications on social media and 73% will offer customer services. 

Passengers will be allowed to check in via Facebook by 61% of airlines, while 65% will sell tickets and services on social media.


Some airlines like Air Canada, American Airlines, Southwest and KLM realize they need to use social media to actively listen to their customers and respond swiftly to their complaints.

As SimpliFlying’s Nigam has said: “Today’s social media is the early warning system for all airlines on what might be a very big problem coming up.”

There is clearly an opportunity for airlines. Those that win will be the ones who listen to social media with a good operational team ready to respond. Quick reactions can solve problems, such as sending someone to the gate to meet the passenger complaining on social media.


KLM actively monitors social media with a team of 132 dedicated people. It handles 30,000 passenger queries a week through Twitter and Facebook. Passengers already traveling, or with a booking, account for 2,000 of the queries.

Two of the team focus just on passengers in the air or at Amsterdam Airport. That’s because customers using the airline’s services at any one time are considered to be the most important.

KLM’s team replies to everything within six minutes to meet customer expectations of real-time service.

American Airlines has set the standard high by responding to every request on social media within three minutes.

KLM now also is offering friends the ability to organize group trips through social media. With a Facebook account, the friends can organize the trip on


In the meantime, results from the latest Airport IT Trends Survey show airports reacting to changing passenger demographics, as more Generation Y and 2000 passengers come on board.

These new passengers expect to use social media for accessing and sharing information and buying services anywhere.

Airports are responding: three quarters of them say they’ll be using social media to implement passenger services by 2016.

By 2016, airport status notifications and flight status updates will be provided on social media by 75% of airports, while 70% will offer customer relations.

Some airports such as Changi (@fansofchangi) already offer retail promotions by social media and over 65% will do so by 2016.

Growing trend

As the air transport industry evolves, it’s self-evident that the journey will become ever more social. More and more, passengers will search for flights on social media, some will pay for them.

They will let their families know their travel plans on Facebook. Airports and airlines will keep passengers informed of offers for flights, shopping, and parking, while also keeping them updated on delays.

And when passengers are in the sky, they’ll expect to use Facebook and Instagram to share their experience and or even distract them should there be turbulence.

Aviation Social Media Hub

The Aviation Social Media Hub is an initiative run by the Air Transport Action Group, ATAG and IATA. It’s a global, not-for-profit body representing the air transport industry.

ATAG works to promote aviation’s sustainable growth. It realized that its 50 member firms and organizations could do this better through social media interaction.

ATAG is building a community among social media experts in aviation.  Through the Aviation Social Media Hub, it organizes webinars for aviation industry colleagues to provide and discuss information. Subjects range from social media trends to the usage of social media by member organizations.

Passenger IT trends survey 2014

Q.7 which investments would you suggest as priority if you were able to?

A: 34% of travelers say there definitely needs to be investment in more airline services via social media

Q.32 How often do you use the following real-time flight information services?

A: 31% regularly use social media on their travels (ground) e.g. at airports. In Brazil, Indonesia, India and Turkey very high response around the 50% mark, compared to much lower levels in Europe of 19% and less.

Q.36 When things go wrong (e.g. delay, cancellation, lost bag), how would you expect your airline to support you?

A: 29% would definitely expect support and 38% say it would be nice to have.

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