Two-Way Street: A Complaining Consumer's Social Media Obligation
If we choose to use social media to complain about a company, then we obligate ourselves to use it to praise the company if and when it remedies the situation.
Setting the Stage
I had flown Alaska Airlines many times and never before found occasion to complain about my experience. Flights were consistently affordable, comfortable, and punctual, which explains the carrier's popularity on the West Coast.
On Monday, after a fun, whirlwind weekend in Seattle, my wife and I opted to change our flight (I also paid $30 to bump us to preferred for the early boarding and extra leg-room). We were initially slated to arrive at SFO close to midnight, but found ourselves ready and willing to shorten our trip by several hours if it meant beginning the week that much fresher. A quick phone call to 1-800-ALASKAAIR and $50 in change fees ($25 each) later and we were set for a 3:25 departure.
We arrived at SeaTac Airport extra early, as the Alaska Air representative had advised. Given that we did not check bags, we whizzed through security quickly enough to present yet another option: get on the 2:15 flight to SFO. I inquired with the gate agent who said there was space, but that we would have to pay an additional change fee (i.e. another $50). "What's another hour?" we thought, and balked.
Well, to be exact, another hour would actually be six.
Just as boarding commenced for our schedule flight, we were informed that a mechanical issue had been discovered. Thirty minutes became an hour, and another, and another. It was around an hour into the delay that my wife and I regretted not paying the extra fee, and about five minutes later that I grew annoyed that we should have had to pay it at all.
So I tweeted my frustration.
My complaint was brief and specific. @alaskaair's response was swift and constructive. It took a short time to move the exchange from the public eye to direct message. They offered to refund our change fees. Minutes later, snacks and water bottles appeared at the gate for everyone to devour.
We continued to wait. Around 5pm, I tweeted that we should have been about ten minutes from home, if only Alaska hadn't tried to double down on the change fee. Shortly thereafter, the gate made an announcement: when the flight was completed, we all would receive an email regarding "compensation" for the delay. Eyebrows rose.
Around 7pm, we boarded a new plane with a sense of relief. Granted, it hadn't been a particularly awful delay. We had clean water, bathrooms, and food and entertainment options at SeaTac. But it was annoying—especially for those of us who hadn't gotten on the earlier flight. But the wait wasn't over.
Fog. Damn it, Karl. Yes, just as we were ready to head for home, SFO slowed everything down even more, as the Bay fog's low-ceiling requires. More (of the same) snack boxes were passed out, along with soft drinks (but no free booze). Finally, at 8:10pm we were off! We arrived home a little after 11pm, roughly an hour earlier than we would have if we had stuck to the initial plan.
The following morning, my wife and I received an email with a code for a significant discount on future Alaska flights.
Instead of quietly going away, I realized my obligation. Social media is a two-way street. Whether it's consumer-to-consumer or business-to-consumer, it depends on mutuality and reciprocity. It shouldn't be a sounding board only for a frustrated consumer, like me. It is more than a tool to amplify a complaint or shame a business. Rather, it is a tool to connect and communicate.
The more liberties we take in our usage, the more responsibility we bear.
If I use Twitter to vent about an Alaska Airlines policy and an unfortunate series of unfolding events, then I should use that same medium to thank the company for appreciating my concerns, valuing my business, and taking steps to ensure our relationship continues. And that's what I did.
Will I be flying Alaska Airlines again? Absolutely.