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:

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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