Airlines' flight delays cause a large drag on the world’s economy. China is second only to the United States in number of passengers carried annually, so it stands to reason that the economic costs for both countries are just as high.
But what about the drag on airlines' reputation and customer loyalty? To understand the impact, social-media analysis company Linkfluence looked at roughly 11,100 conversations taking place on social media platforms in China from July to September 2017. The company tracked what Chinese consumers had to say about one of the nation’s great pastimes: waiting (sometimes in line, sometimes not) in airports or airplane cabins.
In these conversations, consumers vented their anger and frustration with keywords like 'this is rubbish'.
The following table is a leaderboard showing the airlines mentioned the most, ranked from worst to best.
And here are the top trending (translated) hashtags and emoticons for the worst airlines.
Evidently, Chinese airlines topped the list of worst reputations, with China Southern, Hainan Airlines, Air China, and China Eastern each drawing over 60% of negative posts among all posts mentioning departure delays, stated Linkfluence.
Air China was berated after being caught on camera hurling abuse at passengers for complaining about a flight delay, for example.
Departure times are often delayed due to airport traffic control, weather, and other issues out of the control of the airline brand itself. Still, Linkfluence found that airlines can do a great deal to improve the 'delay experience' of passengers, including the conditions in which they are asked to wait, how long they have to wait, and the compensation provided.
From Linkfluence's monitored data, some airlines took the opportunity to turn a potential social-media crisis around.
For instance, the crew of one delayed AirAsia flight sang a cheery song, I’m Yours, to placate passengers and to lighten the mood. A post documenting this action was forwarded by thousands on Sina Weibo, thereby boosting rather than damaging the reputation of the airline.
Airlines that were less creative still managed to reduce the frequency of negative posts, observed Linkfluence, by using the tried-and-true approach of free food and drinks. In the post below, Emirates was distributing for free different kinds of alcoholic drinks—by the bottle.
When airlines take to comforting or entertaining passengers and reduce the negative impact of flight delays, "great" user-generated content are created and shared, noted Linkluence.
In fact, because departure and arrival delays are predictable, social discontent is more manageable compared to the unexpected social-media crises in other industries, the agency concluded. Airlines can plan for and test tactics to address the issue, and track their reputational improvement over time through a proactive social-PR approach.