Here’s How You Use Twitter to Solve Travel Problems

Yesterday I was in New York and supposed to fly home on American’s 5:15pm New York JFK – Austin flight. I decided I really didn’t want to wind up in coach for the Westbound flight which runs about 4 hours, so I plunked down a Business ExtrAA one-segment upgrade when only 2 first class seats were left for sale a few weeks out.

Business ExtrAA upgrades are paper certificates. The one I was using was valid for one segment on most domestic coach fares. The thing about paper upgrade certificates though is that they have to be turned in at the airport. You cannot check-in online or using American’s mobile app.

I had checked traffic and it was looking like almost an hour to JFK. I fired up my phone and grabbed an Uber at 2:50pm. I was in the car at 3pm. Waze said I’d be at the airport by 3:50pm. That all changed as we approached the Midtown tunnel. There was an accident just as we were entering, and traffic stopped.

A 50 minute ride was now showing an hour and 45 minutes. That would put me at the airport just as my flight was boarding — and after check-in cutoff time.

At this point I figured I was simply hosed. Delta has a flight just over an hour later, but it was showing only one (full fare) first class seat for sale. It was over $1100 and I didn’t even get to the point of pricing it as an award. JetBlue has a late flight, arriving Austin after midnight, and it was showing one full fare seat available.

Instead of pricing airport hotels, I went to twitter.

The American Airlines twitter team got a seatmate on a recent flight rebooked before we landed. This was super helpful because inflight there’s no way to call customer service. They once even got my home internet fixed so yeah they can pretty much make miracles happen. And they have a sense of humor, too.

I reached out to @AmericanAir and asked explained I couldn’t check in because of the Business ExtrAA cert.

  • Could they downgrade me to coach and remove the check-in restriction? (No, coach was sold out.)
  • Could they swap my Business ExtrAA upgrade for an eVIP systemwide upgrade and reissue the ticket so I could check in? (Yes, they could do that.)

I hated to burn one of my 8 Executive Platinum systemwide upgrades on New York – Austin but if it meant saving me from buying a new ticket on another airline or spending the night in New York it was going to be worth it.

They got the upgrade swapped out, reissued the ticket, and told me to check in. It wouldn’t work. I tried the mobile app and I tried AA.com as well. The twitter team couldn’t get me checked in, either. It was going to have to be done at the airport.


American Airlines Airbus A321 at New York JFK

I made it to JFK terminal eight at 37 minutes to departure. (Partway through the trip I thought about just giving up and going here.)

The priority check-in queue had people ahead of me. I got in line. Minutes pass. The twitter team had reached out to the airport, and my boarding pass was already printed. I showed them my ID, booked it over to PreCheck, and I was through security at 27 minutes to departure. I made it onto my flight with plenty of time to spare — which I knew I would as long as I could get checked in on time — and there was even overhead space above my seat. Thanks to the twitter team I made it home last night.

This isn’t just a shout out to the Twitter team as much as I appreciate them for their help. I think there are lessons in how to use them effectively.

  • Know exactly what your problem is, and what you need to have happen. I knew my issue was check-in. I knew that collecting the upgrade certificate at the airport was going to be a roadblock (whether I was able to check in before reaching the airport or not). So I asked them to remove it.

  • My request was very specific, I tried to make it clear and concise, and it was something they could actually do.

  • When it didn’t get the problem solved, I asked for help with the check-in itself. When they couldn’t do it, they have contacts at the airport who can. They were invested in helping already, I said please and thank you. It was a place where a targeted intervention would make an actual difference in whether I made it home.


An American Airlines Boeing 737 Would Take Me Home

I made my asks specific and reasonable. Their intervention would actually make a difference. So it wasn’t just an indulgence either. I’ve seen the American twitter team do things like this for other travelers, though I don’t know whether they’re elite frequent flyers or not. I’ve seen Hyatt’s twitter team get problems resolved on the spot, and Starwood’s too, for plenty of customers without status.

Meanwhile I swear I don’t do stupid things like not leave enough time for New York traffic when heading to JFK and when I have to check in with an agent just for blog content…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So, in Hindsight couldn’t you have just saved the SWU and asked TT to have someone at JFK check you in and exchange BE cert for BP when you got there?!

  2. @Jr no, because they couldn’t have checked me in without the cert. They printed the boarding pass for me prior to cutoff, which wouldn’t have happened if the cert was involved (which also takes time to process)

  3. @Dave the only issue here was the accident in the tunnel right as i was about to enter it, otherwise i would have timed it with plenty of room to spare

  4. Gary, with all respect to you, they take care of you because you are an Elite with them (and it doesn’t hurt that your VFTW) however I have tried multiple times on twitter and get worthless delayed responses back…

  5. The issue here is that you would even try to go to JFK via cab/uber. If there’s not an accident in the tunnel, there might be one on LIE, or Wan Wyck or just about anywhere else, not to mention traffic itself is absolutely unpredictable. And than there’s the price of cab / uber.
    There is absolutely no reason not to take a public transportation. If you want to keep it super cheap and easy you take E train subway. $2.75 gets you to AirTrain and $5 gets you to your terminal. Even better and faster is LIRR commuter train. $7.50 gets you from Penn Station to AirTrain and then $5 gets you to terminal. I take LIRR every time as I live near Penn. 50 minutes door to terminal, or less.
    I laugh at people paying $70 for stinky cab taking twice as long. I thought only clueless tourist do that.

  6. I’ve found Twitter is a pretty incredible tool for getting good customer service. Because it’s a public forum, your complaints are visible to everyone. On the other hand, if you spend your life complaining about companies on Twitter, you’re going to lose some followers.

  7. I see that you left them off of your list, but United’s twitter team works the same kind of magic as well. They’ve gotten me out of a couple of jams. A couple weeks back, I was traveling from DFW-DEN-LAX. Once we were on the plane, the pilot announced that because of the epic storms in the area (the storm that spawned the F4 tornado in Oklahoma), that we would be taking a rather circuitous route to get out of the DFW area, shooting quite a bit to the south before turning west and then north to avoid the weather.

    This increased the estimated flight time from about 2 hours to almost 3 hours, and it meant that my 54 minute layover in Denver wasn’t going to be enough. I called the 1K desk, and they said that they would monitor my flight, and if it looked like I was going to misconnect, they would get me re-booked on the next flight. The agent told me that they couldn’t “protect” me on the next DEN-LAX flight without cancelling my reservation on the existing DEN-LAX flight, and they didn’t want to do that in case we made up time in the air.

    I knew that the phone agent was incorrect, as I’ve gotten myself protected on other flights under similar situations, but our plane was now pulling away from the gate, so I didn’t have time to hang up and call back or speak to a supervisor.

    I immediately tweeted to @United, explained the situation, and requested that they protect me on the next DEN-LAX flight. They were happy to oblige, and within a few minutes, I was protected, holding the last F seat on that next flight for me.

    I kept monitoring things while in the air, and in the process saw that the flight after the one I was protected on had cancelled due to aircraft maintenance, so I was very happy to have that protection in place.

    In the end, we did make up much of the time in the air, as we were ultimately given a very direct route into DEN once we cleared the weather, and I was actually able to make my original flight, with enough time to run up to the United Club that was right above the connecting gate and grab a coffee, since the clubs have switched over to the fantastic Illy espresso, while the planes are still serving the Smisek-swill for another few weeks..

    Once I was sure that I would make my flight, I tweeted back to @United and told them that they could release the seat on the protected flight to try to help another passenger who would need that seat because of the later cancellation. They were very gracious and thanked me for doing this.

    I’ve been on Twitter since the very beginning (I signed on early enough to get my 3 initials as my twitter handle), but rarely use it for anything except travel issues. And for travel issues, it is great.

  8. Hi. Could you please tell me exactly how to communicate with an airline on Twitter? I have an account, but so far I have just read other peoples’ tweets.

    How do I request something? For example: Do I just type:

    @Delta, My flight got cancelled can you reschedule it? Do I have to post my name and flight number on their their public twitter feed? Or, is there some sort of private message system?

    Thanks

  9. Well, one hopes that the AA twitter folks are substantially more empowered and professional than the old US folks were. I had nothing but horrific experiences with @USAIRWAYS over the years, incl once where I was in very rural Mexico with a threadbare wifi connection and no way to place a phone call when I realized that US had mistakenly DELETED my entire return trip from GDL in first class. I spent more than ONE HOUR with their Twitter staff — who consistently would vanish for 7 or 8 minutes at a time and NOT reply to any of my tweets. I always found @US to be among the worst experiences out there — let’s hope the @AA is a far different story going forward. It surely cannot be any worse.

  10. Never, ever safe to travel to the New York airports by car during daylight hours (or even after, during the winter) unless you leave an extra hour or two. Just too many cars funneled through too few river crossings to be sure you’ll make it.

  11. ((Wondering to self – great story BUT do full-time travel bloggers get special treatment? I’ve never heard of a BP printed out in advance. Hmmm.))

  12. @Mark i’ve seen it done plenty of times for plenty of non-bloggers. But not surprising you’d be here with snark. You’re reliable about that, and it’s much appreciated.

  13. I was flying IST-BOS on Turkish Airlines when Istanbul was hit by a snowstorm, so I knew I was going to miss my connecting BOS-DCA American flight. They were under no obligation, since the two airlines aren’t partners, but the AA twitter team put me on a later BOS-DCA flight within a few minutes. I am neither an elite nor a blogger

  14. I use the BXP1 Certificates a lot. And while they are one of the last pieces of paper at AA, they do occasionally come with one added bonus: the counter agents often don’t collect them (and don’t ask them) about 50% of the time. It could be because most agents have the ability to bypass the boarding pass inhibitor in the record, but probably because some of the newer, perhaps former US agents ignore the notes in the record, see that the flight is booked in “A”, and just issue it. But I’ve been in your situation before. When I’m sweating it out in a cab, I do one of two things…call the Exec Plat line and offer to read the ticket designation code off the certificate, OR beg an agent that will let me snap a pic of the certificate on my phone, and email it to his/her email address at AA. Once they enter it, it unlocks the BP on the app. Done that three times and I’m 3 for 3. Worth a try next time!

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