Grounded Flights Lead to Social Media Takeoff
at Chicago Rockford International
BY ZACH SUNDQUIST, A.A.E.
Chicago Rockford International, like some
other airports, has found that social media
are a valuable customer service and
marketing tool for communicating with
stakeholders and customers.
Our social media activities typically consist
of promoting and posting any fare sales,
flight delays or cancellations, new service
announcements, travel tips, photos of
unique visiting aircraft, and updates on
construction projects at the airport. In the
spring travel season of 2012, our social
media activities briefly took on a new role
as we used them for a different purpose —
In March 2012, the airport had a very
successful and popular nonstop route to
Fort Myers, Fla., that was operated by
Direct Air. Then in the midst of the peak
travel season, Direct Air suddenly canceled
all of its flights and went into bankruptcy,
leaving thousands of our passengers
stranded at their destination or without
flights just days before their vacations.
Our airport’s Facebook page became the information
base for Direct Air passengers who couldn’t reach the
airline’s customer service staff. Understandably, these
passengers were extremely frustrated and upset by
the situation. By consistently communicating with our
audience, we were able to show passengers that, while
this was an airline issue, we were still willing to go above
and beyond to provide a solution, even if it was at our
own expense. Airport Director Mike Dunn provided
regular updates that were posted on our Facebook page.
The updates described how Direct Air customers could
receive a ticket refund, as well as reported on the status
of the airport’s work in securing replacement flights.
While we were in discussions with an alternate airline, we
promised our audience that we would provide them with
updates at specific times during the day. This assured
passengers that the airport’s top leadership was working
on their behalf and would provide them with answers.
Within 56 hours of Direct Air’s cancellation announce-
ment, Rockford had secured a replacement airline
to restore affordable and immediate service to the
popular Florida destination. After the new flights were
announced, we used social media to communicate with
passengers and advise them where they could purchase
tickets. Throughout the entire Direct Air crisis, our social
media following increased significantly, as passengers
and their families wanted to read our updates. This
increase was extremely beneficial for the passengers and
airport. Rockford booked more than 2,000 passengers
on the replacement service within 12 days of the new
tickets going on sale. Our second departure flight with
the alternate airline was completely full.
Due to the airport’s regular updates and responsiveness,
Rockford gained hundreds of new followers and received
overwhelming public support and positive feedback, even
from passengers who were experiencing a very frustrating
situation. The positive testimonials we received from fans
via social media are priceless. In the end, we gained a lot
of new fans and reinforced that Rockford is a hassle-free
airport that goes above and beyond for its passengers.
Social media played an integral role in helping us
communicate that message.
Zach Sundquist, A.A.E., is passenger air service development manager at Chicago Rockford International Airport. He may be reached