Over the last couple of years, JetBlue has been lauded for their social media prowess. Others like the infamous "United Breaks Guitars" customer service debacle, not so much. Southwest Airlines, long commended for their creative promotions on Twitter, just recently caught the ire of movie director Kevin Smith on the same microblogging platform. Airports on the other hand have not till recently tested the social media waters.
There are several airports throughout the US that are learning how to harness the power of social media to help increase interaction with the illusive passenger that all too often sees airports as only a conduit to get to someplace else. Today's savvy airport authority officials want to change that dynamic by utilizing social media to promote themselves as destinations.
The AirMall at the Pittsburgh International Airport, one of the first to offer over 100 retail and food and beverage outlets within the airport's air-side terminal, continues to post the highest sales per passenger than any airport in the US. Last year posting $13.60 per passenger, Jay Kruisselbrink, vice president of the Pittsburgh AirMall says that Pittsburgh retailers at the airport "were the first to offer pricing akin to what shoppers would find at outside retailers."
While not that active on social networks - Pittsburgh International only has only 88 fans on Facebook, and just 90 followers on Twitter (both accounts are managed by the Chamber of Commerce) - the thought occurred to me that if they followed the example of airports like Minneapolis-St Paul, they might be able to increase their sales per passenger revenue significantly higher.
The social media microsite for Minneapolis -St Paul International Airport focuses on the arriving and departing traveler with information that is informative and interactive.
MSP Social Media Microsite
The microsite's "Eat, Shop, Relax" tab directs you to coupon offerings that can be printed out in advance or displayed on your smartphone and used at just about every retail shop and food and beverage outlet at the airport. Some discounts, like the $5 dollar off any purchase of $20 or more at Ike's Restaurant offers significant savings to passengers while prompting more sales for the concession. At Erwin Pearl, there's a free earrings offer with a purchase or $60 more. If Pittsburgh International was to incorporate a similar type of social media promotion, they could most likely move on their $13.60 per passenger stat.
MSP Social Media Promotions
On Twitter, the MSP airport is actively engaged with their followers. With over 1080 followers, they keep incoming and outgoing passengers abreast of where to park, airline deals, and yes, even a "great review" about Ike's at their "Feel the Meal" blog.
Presently there are 891 fans signed up for the airport's Facebook page - recently featuring a warm "welcome back" status update and promotional nod to Icelandair "as they resume seasonal service today between MSP and KEF (Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik, Iceland)."
In addition to revenue-producing opportunities, one airport used social media to provide breaking news regarding incidents on the tarmac. On January 11, 2010 when US Airways Express regional jet overran the runway at Charleston, West Virginia's Yeager Airport, what could have been a media disaster was alleviated by the help of social networks. While the incident was minor, it could have been blown out of proportion by the press. What actually transpired could be a case study in how social media can help assist crisis management.
The messages that were posted to both the airport's Facebook and Twitter accounts were simple, easy to understand and divided into three (3) separate wall posts.
That helped dispel any rumors of airplanes plunging off the runway, dire injuries or fatalities. They then posted contact information for media people and followed it up with constant status updates.
- Yeager Airport (CRW) (Charleston, WV) At approximately 4:22 p.m. this afternoon flight 2495, an outbound flight to Charlotte, North Carolina, aborted take-off and came to a stop in the EMAS (Engineered Material Arresting System) portion of the runway at the end of runway 5.
- Yeager Airport (CRW) The 50 passenger aircraft is a Canadair Regional Jet with 30 passengers and 3 crew members on board. There are no reported injuries at this time and the passengers have been transported back to the terminal.
- Yeager Airport (CRW) The runway will remain closed until the aircraft can be cleared from the runway. The airport will post updates as they are available on twitter.com/yeagerairport and the Yeager Airport web site at www.yeagerairport.com.
Airports have had their challenges in communicating with incoming and outgoing passengers. Social media, while a relatively untapped resource, when properly harnessed can provide an effective conduit to interact with folks that often have a lot of time on their hands, particularly during long flight delays. While a Google search on "airports" and "social media" renders more "airline" results than those for "airport authorities," I think in time you will see airports more heavily engaged in using social media as the communication and promotional tool that so many brands in the travel industry have already adapted to successfully.