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24 November 2011

Qantas competition twisted by Twitter



The airline industry and Twitter were never going to get along. As a method of getting about, air travel is dependent on so many variables that delays, cancellations and missed flights are going to be inevitable. Frequent flyers are used to all manner of disruptions called by fog, mechanical failure, ice on the runway and refuelling delays – and this assuming that the air traffic control staff aren’t on strike in one of the countries you have to fly over in order to reach your destination.

Ten years ago, this wasn’t a problem. Passengers were stranded in airport terminals around the world with limited access to the outside world. Outside of the most severe delays, the airlines could keep their problems to themselves in a way that other consumer-facing sectors must have envied. Few of these delays were newsworthy, and by the time disgruntled passengers had voiced their anger in various forms of consumer watchdog media, an airline could don its hair shirt and issue a swift heartfelt apology, and  the matter was closed.

Obviously this is not the case today. Until the cabin door shuts on an aircraft, passengers are armed with internet-connected smartphones that can post an angry tweet or Facebook update in seconds. A hotline to airline embarrassment.

Eventually, the airline industry learned to deal with social media – and some, like KLM have managed to harness social media, particularly Twitter, into a powerful marketing tool. But the immediate impact of social media means that timing is everything, as Qantas has just learned to its cost.

Qantas recently launched a competition on Twitter inviting people to suggest the ultimate in-flight luxury experience. In itself, this isn’t a bad idea. It copies a model that has been successfully employed on a number of occasions. But launching the competition in the wake of a massive industrial relations issue that grounded the entire Qantas fleet and left thousands of passengers around the world completely stranded, was possibly not the best idea.

Angry passengers have turned to Twitter, now armed with a high profile hashtag to fuel their ire, and the well-meaning competition has become a catalogue of anger, sarcasm and bile directed at the airline. Some creative soul even found the time to create the obligatory 'Hitler downfall' video to illustrate the absurdity of the situation.


The attempts by the Qantas Twitter feed to remain defiantly friendly and helpful in the face of such a barrage has to be applauded though, and if the social media desk at Qantas HQ is in chaos, this doesn’t come through on its tweet output. (See also: Qantas luxury on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23QantasLuxury)

So it’s a case of bad luck for Qantas, and a lesson that other airlines would be daft to ignore.  

See also: 

Live reply | KLM, Netherlands

Heathrow is working | British Airways, UK


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