IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac says social media can be a 'powerful tool' for airlines

If anyone had any doubt about the power and global impact of social media, the incident with United Airlines on 9 April cleared it up.

This and other recent incidents have also reinforced another truth: the world is absolutely fascinated with anything to do with aviation and air travel. As a result, airlines live in the public spotlight.

Aviation is an important industry that has a real impact on an ever-increasing number of people

There’s good reason for that. Aviation is an important industry that has a real impact on an ever-increasing number of people. This year about four billion passengers are expected to board aircraft.

And, as a matter of course, the vast majority will be social media-enabled with their smart phone.

As we see with incidents large and small, companies are not only listening to what their customers are saying online; they are using what they learn to help them respond appropriately. 

And on those rare occasions when, for whatever reason, events escalate to a social media tsunami, companies come under tremendous public pressure to make things right.

There are a few lessons.

Social media is a highly accurate lightning rod in attracting the attention of companies to areas of concern to customers

It should be reassuring to regulators that such a potent force exists to serve the consumer interest.

Social media is not a replacement for a well-thought out consumer rights regime aligned with smarter regulation principles and global standards.

But it’s a highly accurate lightning rod in attracting the attention of companies to areas of concern to their customers. For airlines, that’s also a powerful tool. 

Social media links them directly with their customers and empowers them with real-time knowledge. As we have seen, the cutting-edge of social media is sharp. So it must be handled with great care and sensitivity.

Our industry’s commitment to working with governments on smarter regulation is vitally important

Greater public attention through social media on examples of poor consumer experience also creates the temptation for policy-makers to rush towards regulatory solutions. But the old legal adage that hard cases make bad law comes with a warning worth heeding in such cases. 

Our industry’s commitment to working with governments on smarter regulation is vitally important. Industry input and a rigorous cost-benefit analysis must not be short-circuited by the immediacy of the social media age.

A rallying call is also part of the learning. Of course, any business should be held accountable when it has not lived up to legitimate public expectations.

But as an industry we must also not be shy about touting aviation’s successes. I call aviation the business of freedom. And that is not a theoretical or poetical naming.

The IATA AGM and World Air Transport Summit is an opportunity for the industry to unite, review successes and address challenges

Airlines perform a vital function in our world—linking people, facilitating business, delivering vital cargo, keeping global supply chains running, and so much more. Our work creates opportunities for people to lead better lives.

The IATA Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit is an opportunity for the industry to unite, review successes and address challenges.

I look forward to seeing you there or following the event through the coverage on www.iata.org

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