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Friday, August 14, 2009

Airlines Board the Twitter Express

To celebrate my long-awaited arrival on Twitter (http://twitter.com/dailysuitcase), a post about how airlines are using the service to chirp out to customers.

Just as the early bird gets the worm, the Twitterer gets the early word when it comes to amazing airfare deals.

To wit (or to twit?), JetBlue posted its first cheep last month. The deal: $9 one way from JFK to Nantucket. Since then, JetBlue has been notifying its Twitter followers about deals for upcoming weekends on Mondays. There is a little-noted catch, however. Most cheep dates are one way. Sure, they'll get you to Nantucket for nine dollars, but if you want to get back to NYC, you'll probably end up paying a full fare on the return flight. That's the problem with tweets--no space for the fine print.

Meantime, United is offering twares. The Twitter-only fares are randomly timed and randomly located. Whether by tware or by cheep, customers have to act quickly if they want to snap up these so-called bargains. And, to take full advantage of these deals, you have to be spontaneous, flexible, and somewhat of a Crackberry.

Of course, many airlines still offer last-minute fares by e-mail (how retro). While the discounts are not as steep, e-fares tend to have a longer booking time (a few days versus a few hours) and a wider range of destination options.

Announcing cheap seats is just one way airlines are employing Twitter. The smart ones are shifting the focus of their Twitter accounts to relationship building, using the service for real-time customer service. Airlines are using Twitter for frequent flyer outreach, to notify customers about flight delays, and to provide a head's up about Wi-Fi availability on selected planes (Alaska, Southwest).

Meantime, part of the beauty of Twitter is that it is not a one-way street. Customers can have their say. Bags lost at the airport? Tweet Southwest. Encounter a smarmy customer service agent? Tweet JetBlue. Stuck on a tarmac? Tweet Continental. On second thought, given the events of this week, good luck with the latter.

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