Airline apps and websites are making it easier than ever to manage your own bookings, especially in the event of certain kinds of disruption or if you need to make changes. But sometimes you just need to talk to the airline, and that’s often tricky given long wait times on the phone. Here’s how you can use social media to skip the queue.

The menu of a smartphone is visible as the phone is held in a hand
Twitter is the most effective medium to make complaints © Towfiqu Photography/Getty Images

Use Twitter, not Facebook

As a rule, Twitter is best for getting results and much better than Facebook. There are a bunch of reasons around that. Unlike Facebook, the airlines have fewer tools to hide complaining passengers’ messages; it also helps that aviation journalists like me tend to be quite active on Twitter so problems are more easily flagged to us.

Make sure you’re talking to the right account, though, because there are a lot of parody accounts out there. Look for the verified tick, and don’t try tagging in an airline’s CEO: that’s very likely a parody or fake account, and even if not, they’re unlikely to be dealing with customer service problems.

Use the #PaxEx (that’s “passenger experience”) hashtag too, which a lot of airlines and journalists keep an eye on to have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the industry.

Also double-check that you’re contacting the correct airline, or airlines. There are a lot of partnerships, like between the oneworld airlines across the Atlantic. For example, American Airlines might sell you a ticket with an AA flight code like AA9876 but the actual flight is British Airways BA123.

That’s called “codesharing”, and as a general rule you will probably need to contact the airline you booked with, but they may tell you to contact the airline you’re travelling with. The useful thing about social media is that you can contact both of them at the same time.

Some airlines, especially in the US, allow and even encourage you to link your social media account to their frequent flyer programme, which means that they have to go through less authentication to make sure you are who you say you are.

A man stands in an airport overlooking the loading of a plane
Sometimes conventional channels are not quick enough, which could lead to a missed flight ©guvendemir/Getty Images

Use the medium most efficiently to get the best results

Some airlines have open direct messages, or DMs, but you shouldn’t start there: begin publicly so that there’s a clear incentive for the airline to fix your problem.

Be clear and calm in your communications, and don’t start out with the airline’s username, which means only they will see it.

As an example, let’s say you need to rebook your flight because of a winter storm in the area and can’t do that via their website for some reason. Start out with something like:

Hi @Airline, I’m having problems rebooking my Toronto flight tomorrow during Winter Storm Esmeralda. Can you assist?

Most airlines’ immediate response to any customer service question is to get you into DMs so they can get information from you — but also to reduce the number of visible complaints on Twitter.

If you DM them, make sure you then follow them so they can DM you back. But also respond in public after you’ve contacted them, with a reply to them like:

@Airline Thanks. I’ve DMed, but can you take a look at it ASAP please? I’m pretty worried given that I leave tomorrow and need to be at a family event.

Follow up with them after an hour or so if they haven’t got back to you via DMs: keep the pressure on, because the squeaky wheel gets the grease in this case.

Avoid tagging in journalists too early on, but if you’re not getting any joy sometimes folks like me can be helpful, whether to add some pressure to the airline or to suggest some other options for getting your issue resolved. 

A man is standing in the airport watching a plane take off.
Anyone with your PNR can change your flight: don't post it online ©YakobchukOlena/Getty Images

Be careful about providing too much personal information, even via DMs

Make sure you never give your six-character booking reference — the PNR, for Passenger Name Record — in a public post, especially if your legal name is on your social media account.

Armed with the PNR and your name, pretty much anyone can make changes to your booking. This is also why you definitely shouldn’t ever post a picture of your boarding pass.

Also beware the airlines that ask you for a disproportionate amount of information via social media, which is an inherently insecure channel that can open you up to all kinds of personal data theft problems.

For example, I recently wanted to check that my bag had made it onto a connecting flight, so I DMed British Airways via Twitter. They said:

We'll need to know your full name and booking reference so that we can take a look at this for you. To make sure we're speaking to the right person, can you also confirm 2 of the following:

•Passport number and expiry date (if in booking)

•The last 4 digits of the payment card

•Billing address, including post•Email address

If you've booked through an agency, we'll also need to know which agency you booked through, along with their contact details.

This is, frankly, ridiculous. No airline should ever be asking for sensitive information like passport and home addresses over an insecure channel like Twitter, and you shouldn’t give it to them. Request a callback instead if you can in the event that something like this comes up.

Lastly, and I wish I didn’t need to say this, but be kind to the people who are on the other end of your messages. It’s an often thankless job, since they’re frequently dealing with people whose travel has gone pear-shaped. And if the team help you, a word of thanks is always very welcome.

You might also like: 

Why you should never travel with just a mobile boarding pass 
Why do we have to raise airplane window blinds before landing? 
What happens when someone dies on board a plane?

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