Alaska Had a Bad Weekend But Shows How to Communicate When Things Get Ugly

If you were flying on Alaska Airlines this weekend, you had a rough go of it. The airline’s computer systems crashed and that meant plenty of delays and cancellations. Unlike Southwest in its meltdown earlier this month, however, Alaska handled this brilliantly from a communication standpoint.

You can see more on what Southwest did wrong on BNET, where I wrote about Southwest’s Rapid Rewards transition, airport systems failures, and the meltdown that followed. (This, by the way, is my very last week writing for BNET after 3 years on the job.) Southwest said it didn’t want to proactively communicate more than it did because it didn’t want to overburden its website which was already having problems.

Alaska may not have had website problems to muddy the waters, but its decision to go forward with very proactive communication is something that I imagine would have been the case regardless. The airline was doing a backup power supply upgrade when a transformer “blew” and the systems went down. This happened about 3am on Saturday. There were significant delays for flights at that point, and cancellations soon start piling on – about 150 or so in total. At 802a, Alaska sent its first tweet on the situation.

Alaska's First Tweet on Computer Failure

If I have one complaint, I would have liked to have seen a tweet show up earlier. But after that first tweet, the airline’s Twitter account went into overdrive with 11 separate tweets giving status updates, links to more information, and of course apologies. (This doesn’t include tweets that were sent in response to concerns of others.) Certainly Twitter wasn’t the only place where the airline was active. There were also 7 separate Facebook page updates dealing with the problems and four press releases.

Most importantly, I think, there was a big travel advisory placed in orange at the top of the page with a link to more information about the outage. At the same time, Alaska decided to loosen its change policy so that anyone traveling Saturday through today could make a change without a change fee. It was noted that hold times were long on the phones, but customers could also make those changes on the website.

Alaska's Website Warning of Computer Failure

By noon, the systems were at least partially working but delays persisted, of course. By yesterday, nearly everything was back to normal. And that’s when Alaska got even better. Alaska President Brad Tilden and regional subsidiary Horizon Air President Glenn Johnson put a 2m29s video on YouTube apologizing for everything and giving detailed information on what happened along with how people could still get help. It put a very welcome human face on the problem.

As noted in the video, the airline is encouraging anyone who had problems to contact the airline’s customer care group for what I assume is further compensation. At the very least, a personal apology will be issued. This was reinforced on the Facebook page and with a tweet:

For those customers that were impacted by yesterday’s flt disruption, pls contact us so we may follow-up individually: http://bit.ly/hBbGpr

In the end, there were plenty of angry people, without question. People were delayed and canceled and there will undoubtedly be some horror stories that circulate around this, but sh*t happens. It’s all about how the airline deals with its customers when it does happen, and Alaska did a fantastic job in this case.

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14 Comments on "Alaska Had a Bad Weekend But Shows How to Communicate When Things Get Ugly"

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Nick Barnard
Member

The video seems a bit stiff IMHO.

That being said, they got out there and said “Hi we screwed up” That gives them huge kudos in my book. If you admit you made a mistake I’m willing to hang with you as you work through it.

I guess the only thing they’re lucky with on this is it happened on a weekend, so it didn’t hit their peak schedule or as many business customers

Bob
Guest
From what I have gathered, Tilden and Johnson both were out in SEA airport all day Saturday walking up and down the airport, talking to and apologizing to customers. Like Brett said, sh*t happens, and while the airline probably couldn’t have really controlled the failure – it sounded almost like it was a freak accident- the fact that they stood up, owned the mistake and worked overtime to correct it, goes a long way in my book, even if I was stuck in the Spokane airport for 7 hours. Another thing that impressed me was to see the airline’s ability… Read more »
Ian L
Member

Haven’t flown Alaska (they aren’t on the routesthat I travel) but it really does sound like they did everything right considering the situation. From.a techie point of view, where’s the data center redundancy, but from a customer service view there’s very little to nothing by way of room for inprovement.

Morgan
Guest

This is not directly on-topic, but I’m sorry to hear you’re leaving BNET. I’ve always enjoyed your articles there. Hopefully you can just port all those thoughts over to CF!

Peter
Guest
I was stuck in SEA and had three consecutive flights cancelled – 12 minutes before scheduled departure I got a standby ticket to fly to San Diego on a flight that looked like it might actually go – San Diego is 2 hours from where I live, but it was either that or not get home till the next day or two – miraculously, we made it on the flight. All the flight attendants, pilots and gate agents had been very kind up until that point. On my way through the gate I told the gate agent we had had… Read more »
Tyler
Guest

My cousin missed my grandfather’s funeral over the weekend. There’s a never a good time for such a problem, but it was very, very bad timing for our family.

David SF eastbay
Member

Some heads of airlines get it and some don’t on what they should do when things happen. If youtube was around in the late 80’s and 90’s could you see Robert Crandell going on youtube to explain the situation and spending the day at your main station talking to travelers?

umbelifer
Member
We got caught in this incident on Sat morning. We were due to leave ANC at 0610, but by 0540, we got our first of several PA announcements of a delayed flight. As it turned out, we were on our way to SEA about an hour late. From what I saw, there was no attempt to keep bad news away from the passengers. I have been involved in other travel snafus with no information, or incomplete information and all I ask for is accurate information – AS gave us that in spades. I can deal with the problem if I… Read more »
Chris
Guest
I was caught in SJC on Saturday. I got a text at about 10:00 indicating my flight had been cancelled. Luckily I was able to get reaccommodated for the first flight out the next morning. Not optimal, but better than waiting 2 days as some passengers did. From what I saw of the counter staff that afternoon, they were doing all they could…vouchers, transportation to OAK and SFO, checks issued on the spot for hotels, purchasing tickest on Southwest. I only saw one person blow her top, and she was being a bit over-the-top about it. While on our way… Read more »
Matt Matheny
Guest

I was a stranded pax myself, but kudos to the job Alaska did to inform all customers and make the situation as good as possible. The gate agents were so apologetic I wanted to tell them to not be so hard on themselves. Southwest could definitely take a lesson from this!

Scott
Member

I wasn’t trying to travel in this mixup, but two years ago I was trying to change planes via SEA; and SEA received a foot of snow overnight and was closed until 12:30pm.

Needless to say the C & D concourses at SEA were packed, but there wasn’t any cranky travelers because AS handled it so well

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