Air Canada Plane

Image Credit: Doug 

Airlines have had a rough go of it lately on social media. Last week the Twitterverse erupted with the US Airways photo mishap and the last few days have seen a storm brewing for Air Canada. The trouble for the Canadian airline started last week when a passenger posted a video he took of baggage handlers being very careless with luggage.

As tends to happen these days, the video has gone viral and it now has over one million views. According to reports, the Vancouver-bound flight was over capacity for luggage and some items had to be checked at the gate to be stored in the airplane’s cargo hold. The video shows two baggage handlers, one at the top of a staircase and one on the ground dealing with the bags. The employee at the top of the stairs is seen throwing the bags without much care to a bin below. At one point, the employee on the ground adds some cushioning to the bin to soften the bags’ landing but his colleague continues to drop the bags without much regard to their contents.

Air Canada announced today via their spokesperson, Angela Mah, that the two employees shown in the video have been suspended and that “their employment will be terminated pending the outcome of our investigation.”

This is the second time in the last few months that Air Canada has had to deal with negative feedback via social media. Back in December, there was a stir on Twitter after Chris Turner, a Calgary author, Tweeted about his frustration with the airline’s same-name voucher policy. Turner had been given a $400 voucher by the airline to be applied to a future date after he volunteered to take a later flight because his original one had been overbooked. He was told it wouldn’t be a problem to transfer the voucher to his wife but when he tried to transfer it to her months later, Air Canada told him he couldn’t because she doesn’t have the same last name as him.

Hundreds of people replied to Turner’s tweet and shared it to their own timelines. People were mystified that the company would have such an old-fashioned policy in an age when there are so many cultural differences around marriage and last names.

Eventually, someone from the Air Canada social media team told Turner that the company would make an exception in his case and a few weeks later the airline stated it was going to be phasing out the policy.

Air Canada is proving to be an interesting case study in how to do business in the digital and social age. Like many companies, it uses its Twitter account as a customer service tool where customers can engage directly with the brand. Unlike years ago where customer complaints and queries were handled via 1-800 calls or letters, customer service is now done in public where anyone and everyone can see it. The voucher incident would likely not have generated the activity that it did if Turner had just complained to his friends over dinner one night or sent in a letter expressing his dissatisfaction. As for the baggage handlers, something tells me that had they known they were being recorded, they would have treated those particular bags with much more care.

Business as usual is anything but at a time when everyone is carrying a video recorder and broadcast tools in their pocket. What’s a business to do? Automated reply tools help deal with the large volume of mentions on Twitter, but what can be done about employee behaviour? Is everyone supposed to be on their absolute best behaviour in the hopes that their flaws are never captured on video? As the digital and social space evolves, businesses need to remember that the rules have changed; it can take less than 140 characters and a 60 second video to cause bad publicity or harm a brand.