Direct Air: A Tale of Online Communication Failures

Last week, Direct Air flew me south to Punta Gorda, Florida from Allentown, Pennsylvania for a week-long workation in the sun. Having previously flown with Direct Air, I was familiar with its offerings: cheap, no-frills flights to a variety of small airports on the East Coast and Midwest of the USA. I was also very familiar with its proclivity for delayed flight times. But, hey, it’s a round-trip airline ticket for a 1,200 mile journey for $100.00. I was happy to let the time-delay complaints go. I arrived at Punta Gorda just before 10:00 pm. I walked off the plane into the wonderfully warm and humid night air, eager to begin a slower-paced week in the sun.

As I eased my way into the next morning, I heard talk from neighbors of where I was staying that Direct Air had canceled a number of flights and routes to different locations. Concerned about the return leg home of my trip, I surfed the net looking for updates. A visit to the Direct Air website offered no mentions of the route closures. News sites mentioned troubles at the Myrtle Beach Airport, but nothing about the route between Florida and Pennsylvania. It was only three days later that I received a vaguely-worded and less than professional email from Direct Air, advising me that it was suspending flights until 15th May 2012.

While I accustomed to Direct Air’s reputation for delayed flights, I was shocked by its horrendous communication during its financial demise. In considering Direct Air’s plight, I have several ideas on how Direct Air could have communicated more effectively with its customers, at little cost. Online communication, particularly via social media, when done properly, is not so difficult to achieve and is often inexpensive to implement. So, how could have Direct Air better served the travelers it left stranded?

Provide more timely and more detailed updates on its website

Direct Air was very slow to utilize its number one online communication tool: its website. News websites were circulating with hints and rumors of Direct Air’s troubles, yet it was not until Wednesday or Thursday of last week that Direct Air acknowledged anything on its own website. That’s a big miss when it comes to effective online communication.

Use Twitter to provide real-time updates

Direct Air must know something about online communication as they have a Twitter account. The account was set up on 19th September 2011 and since opening its account, Direct Air has sent 61 tweets. So they knew how to use the service, even if they were not proficient at it. Given Twitter’s ability to distribute information at lightening speed, it would have been very helpful for customers had Direct Air used the social media site to communicate news and information.

Share information on Facebook

Direct Air could have taken advantage of the biggest social media site in the world by posting news and updates on its Facebook page. Yet it did not. Huge fail in social media marketing terms.

Given the emails a sense of accountability

When the emails from Direct Air did eventually arrive, they were so insincere and unapologetic that they were more likely to cause offense than to be of any real value to customers. No mention of apology or acknowledgment of the troubles that Direct Air had caused to its customers. To add insult to injury, the email was signed “Very Truly Yours, Direct Air”. Really?!? Really?!? Direct Air should have sent the email from a real person, from someone in senior management who was responsible for making the decisions that were currently effecting its customers.

Communicate with the media

As Direct Air’s customers were eager for any sort of news or information, it would have behooved Direct Air to spend at least a few minutes communicating news and information with local media outlets. The video clip below goes a long to offer insight into how wide Direct Air was of the mark on this one.

Be real, be sincere and be apologetic

As the owner of my own small business, I understand that staying afloat in this economy is tough. I don’t begrudge Direct Air for going under. What I find particularly appalling is its lack of sincerity and openness when dealing with customers. No company officials or spoke people to answer questions. No one taking phone calls at the company’s phone. No meaningful website updates or tweets. Just silence.

In an age of amazing capabilities in online communication, Direct Air totally missed the ball on this. Direct Air, in what might be its final act, failed to capitalize on the strengths of social media to share news and information about its demise in a timely and useful way. Customers are certainly dialed into social media – had Direct Air used those avenues of communication, it might have been able to reduce the stress, anger and frustration by which its customers will surely remember it.

2 thoughts on “Direct Air: A Tale of Online Communication Failures”

  1. Liam, I think it’s interesting that you were taking a workation. I’m sorry that you had the experience of such poor customer service from DirectAir. One would hope they would take note of your (simple – yet effective!) suggestions. Carla

  2. @ Carla,

    The planned stress release of a week in the sun didn’t really happen because of Direct Air, but working from afar is a great way to re-charge batteries, get a fresh perspective and think creatively.

    Just my luck though — the week that I was away, Philly had record setting warm and sunny weather. Ha-ha!

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