Air­ports pro­mote, re­as­sure on Twit­ter

Ex­pert: Air­ports able to of­fer in­for­ma­tion ‘in a much friend­lier way.’

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - TECH SUNDAY - Amy Zip­kin

Be­fore ar­riv­ing at Phoenix Sky Har­bor In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Joe Carella, the as­sis­tant dean of ex­ec­u­tive ed­u­ca­tion at the Eller Col­lege of Man­age­ment at the University of Ari­zona’s Phoenix cam­pus, checks the air­port’s Face­book page.

The air­port also has a Twit­ter han­dle, @PHXSkyHar­bor, with more than 21,000 fol­low­ers. That ac­count tog­gles be­tween pas­sen­ger needs and pro­mo­tion of air­port ser­vices. Over Me­mo­rial Day week­end, it mol­li­fied one pas­sen­ger who com­plained about rude­ness, and that was fol­lowed by another who wanted to know if PlayS­ta­tion 4s are al­lowed in air­plane cab­ins. (They are.)

“The goal is to com­mu­ni­cate with cus­tomers with timely rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion and pro­mote ser­vices,” said Heather Liss­ner, an air­port spokes­woman.

With air­planes often filled al­most to the brim and air travel in­creas­ingly un­pre­dictable, air­ports have be­gun us­ing so­cial me­dia to com­mu­ni­cate with pas­sen­gers.

The hope is to turn what the in­dus­try calls dwell time, the two to three hours that pas­sen­gers spend be­tween curb­side check-in and board­ing, into a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence — one that can be lu­cra­tive for the air­port.

“They want to make sure the pas­sen­ger feels his or her time and money is well spent,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel in­dus­try an­a­lyst at At­mos­phere Travel Group.

The most re­cent study on air­ports and so­cial me­dia, “The Power of So­cial Me­dia for Air­ports,” con­ducted in 2013 by man­age­ment con­sul­tants LeighFisher, found that nearly a third of air­ports world­wide main­tained Face­book, Twit­ter and YouTube ac­counts. Euro­pean and Cana­dian air­ports were the lead­ing users.

Travel ex­perts said they see so­cial me­dia as re­plac­ing an­ti­quated pas­sen­ger com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “In­stead of gi­ant screens and in­audi­ble pub­lic ad­dress sys­tems, the air­ports are present-

ing in­for­ma­tion in a much friend­lier way,” said Paul Tumpowsky, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Sky­lark, a travel agency in New York.

Pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ences with so­cial me­dia, how­ever, run the gamut from pos­i­tive to largely nonex­is­tent.

Sa­man­tha Aguilar, a cor­po­rate travel man­ager in Phoenix, said so­cial me­dia makes her job eas­ier by en­abling her to an­tic­i­pate prob­lems for em­ploy­ees fly­ing into Phoenix Sky Har­bor.

In Novem­ber, gates in Ter­mi­nal 4 were closed for sev­eral hours after an unat­tended bag was dis­cov­ered and re­quired fur­ther in­spec­tion. The in­for­ma­tion was first re­ported on so­cial me­dia. “I don’t have to wait for of­fi­cial no­ti­fi­ca­tion,” she said. “It’s re­al­time in­for­ma­tion.”

On a trip of her own in Oc­to­ber, she had free time be­fore join­ing the line for se­cu­rity screen­ing. Check­ing her phone, she saw a post­ing for the Phoenix Air­port Mu­seum and stopped in to see the ex­hibits.

Oth­ers said so­cial me­dia helped avoid de­lays. Bob Swindell, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion Greater Fort Laud­erdale Al­liance, flies from Fort Laud­erdale-Hol­ly­wood In­ter­na­tional Air­port and re­lies on that air­port’s Twit­ter ac­count (@FLLflyer) for emer­gency weather up­dates.

Be­fore he gets a no­tice from Delta Air Lines, “I have no­tice from the air­port,” he said.

Still, the so­cial me­dia ef­forts of the air­ports are dwarfed by those of the air­lines, which count likes and fol­low­ers in the mil­lions. On Face­book, Delta has a to­tal of nearly 4 mil­lion likes and peo­ple who fol­low it. And it has 1.9 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter. Amer­i­can Air­lines (@Amer­i­canAir) reg­u­larly tweets to its 1.47 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers.

At least one ex­pert sees these ef­forts as an an­ti­dote to the stress of trav­el­ing. “Air­ports can’t con­trol the check-in stan­dards for the air­line and can’t con­trol se­cu­rity for lug­gage,” said Steven Carvell, a pro­fes­sor at the Cor­nell University School of Ho­tel Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion also has a so­cial me­dia pres­ence. The agency has main­tained a Twit­ter feed (@AskTSA) since Septem­ber 2015 and an ac­count on Face­book Mes­sen­ger (AskTSA) since July 2016. It has fielded 305,000 ques­tions, largely about per­mit­ted and pro­hib­ited items and its PreCheck ex­pe­dited se­cu­rity pro­gram.

Us­ing ei­ther site, a registered PreCheck user can con­tact TSA for as­sis­tance if the num­ber does not ap­pear on a board­ing pass. With de­tails pro­vided by the pas­sen­ger (full name, known trav­eler num­ber and air­line con­fir­ma­tion num­ber), “we’re able to work with our Se­cure Flight team to iden­tify the issue and then con­tact their air­line to up­date their in­for­ma­tion,” Jen­nifer Plozai, a TSA spokes­woman, wrote in an email.

The agency also main­tains an In­sta­gram ac­count, @ tsa, that has grown to more than 780,000 fol­low­ers from about 400,000 a year ago. It posts pho­tos of con­fis­cated con­tra­band (agents con­fis­cate about 70 firearms in carry-on bags each week) in­ter­spersed with im­ages of dogs that de­tect ex­plo­sives.

Bob Burns, pub­lic af­fairs spe­cial­ist for the TSA, who runs the site, in­vites pas­sen­ger com­ments. “It’s hu­man­iz­ing the bu­reau­cracy,” he said.

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