Image: Planes lined up on Ramp
Courtesy AirTran Airways
There’s no question that AirTran’s ranking has improved — it has cut its number of complaints in half. But social media has nothing to do with keeping its customers happy; its Twitter presence is nothing more than a placeholder.
By
updated 8/30/2011 10:46:24 AM ET 2011-08-30T14:46:24

When Andrew Shrage discovered that his seatback TV wasn’t working on his JetBlue flight from Chicago to Boston, he didn’t wait until he landed to complain to the airline. Shrage, an editor at the website MoneyCrashers.com, tweeted @JetBlue before the plane took off, and the airline responded — with a $50 voucher.

Slideshow: Most-complained-about airlines

Twitter may be changing how we complain to the airlines, but there’s still a lot to complain about. According to the latest Department of Transportation (DOT) report, the agency received nearly 3,600 complaints about airlines from January 2011 to June 2011.

That’s a lot of complaints, even if it is an improvement from the nearly 4,000 received over the same period last year. Not surprisingly, complaints about flight delays and cancellations, rude or incompetent service, and baggage handling led the list.

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But what these stats don’t tell you is that legions of consumers are now voicing their complaints directly with the airlines via Twitter. And the airlines—or at least some of them—are listening, responding, and in some cases being proactive and fixing the issues.

Stephanie Dressler, a senior associate at Manhattan-based Montieth & Company, missed her Delta flight to Miami in August 2011 because of an exceptionally slow-moving check-in line at New York’s JFK. So she tweeted pictures of the line to her followers. By the time she arrived in Miami, Delta had apologized to her via Twitter, and on her way home she was upgraded to Delta priority—and coveted exit-row seats.

Clearly, it’s faster to broadcast a complaint in 140 characters or less than to call customer service or log a complaint with the DOT. But not all airlines are listening—some, like Skywest, have Twitter pages that are mere bookmarks. Others, like American Airlines, have eight rotating community managers on Twitter and receive 30,000 tweets per month, according to the airline’s social media communications director, Jonathan Pierce.

Of course, anyone can tweet anything; lodging an official complaint with the DOT means you have a serious gripe. Here are the U.S. airlines the DOT says have had the most—and least—complaints.

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