Travelers, Businesses Find a Timely Tool in Twitter

When Mike Wilson joined Twitter in July 2007, he wasn't expecting it to garner him his proverbial 15 minutes of fame. But that's exactly what happened last month when the Denver native boarded the ill-fated Continental flight 1404 headed for Houston.

Thanks to Twitter—a free micro-blogging service that allows users to send and read short text updates —Wilson (or '2drinksbehind' on Twitter) became a national news phenomenon as he documented his experience during the Dec. 20 plane crash.

His descriptions ("tweets" in Twitter parlance) from the scene of the crash ranged from initial alarm to annoyance as the airline refused to serve alcohol post-crash in the lounge. "You have your wits scared out of you, drag your butt out of a flaming ball of wreckage and you can't even get a vodka-tonic. Boo," he tweeted from the scene.

Wilson is being tagged as the first to tweet from a plane crash, but he's certainly not the first twittering road warrior—and those in the travel industry are noticing.

Hotel brands, airlines, airports, destinations and other travel companies are joining the growing Twitter community to not only have their voices heard, but to hear what their customers in the Twitter community are saying about them. The mobile nature of the technology makes it especially attractive to travelers.

AIRLINES

"We consider our Twitter account akin to an information booth," says Morgan Johnston, JetBlue's manager of corporate communication. "Responding to situations after they've happened is a great idea, responding to situations while they're happening is even better."

JetBlue frequently responds to tweets by directing people to tools already available for their use such as flight status updates and weather alerts. But oftentimes, Twitter gets much more personal.

In late November, a Twitter user updated her status announcing that she needed a wheelchair for a JetBlue flight. Before customer service got to her, Johnston saw the tweet and hooked her up with someone at the airport who was able to offer assistance in less than 10 minutes. Similarly, after noticing several tweets about an understaffed check-in counter, Johnston contacted the team in that city and let the users know help was on the way.

Southwest Airlines is often credited with innovative marketing, and when it comes to its Twitter account, it's no different. Answering inquiries and announcing new service isn't Southwest's only use of Twitter.

The airline regularly posts photos of airport giveaways and holiday terminal decorations to its account. The airline even hosts Tweetups for users to get together. "Traveling through DAL, DEN, or PHX today? 10am-5pm we'll be wrapping your gifts with our Container Store friends in the SWA gate areas," Southwest's Christi Day tweeted in December during the prime holiday travel period.

Virgin America is another airline on Twitter, although its primary function is less customer service related and more focused on keeping customers on top of news and sales. The tech-savvy airline particularly enjoys getting feedback on its latest in-flight products and offerings.

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