The Christmas time meltdown of the air transport system in the East Coast of the US was driven by the coldest weather in over 60 years.
It caps a series of unique weather/Act of God events that have plagued air travel in 2010.
While both the airlines and the airports have been roundly denounced as being instruments of the devil as far as media and customer advocacy groups are concerned, there is a silver lining in that the airlines have found better and more appropriate ways to interact with their customers in real time.
To this end, Twitter seems to have been a solid case of how this can work.
One airline, which was one of the most dramatically affected this week, deployed an unproven and completely different way of doing things. That airline was Delta.
The Delta Assist Tweet Team â€“ yes, we can identify the nine team members: WinstonvG ^WG, Brigitte H ^BH, Joseph H ^JH, Theresa H ^TH, Jerry F ^JF, Jonathan D ^JD, Angela J ^AJ, Lashonda H ^LH and Erica C ^EC – should now be regarded as Twitter celebs for their efforts.
And they did not go unnoticed. The Grey Lady herself wrote a great story which was picked up by other newspapers around the country.
And as Wall Street Journal columnist Scott McCartney wrote in his annual review from the middle seat:
“â€¦ blizzard on the East Coast – with 7,000 canceled flights – showed our air-travel system can be exceedingly unreliable in an age when technology makes so much of our daily routine dependable.”
With the airlines having cut back on customer service personnel, this meltdown should have been a customer service nightmare of biblical proportions, but we have seen that both the airports and the airlines have improved how they communicate.
That communication is helping to alleviate at least some of the passenger misery.
The change in process and use of social media tools is not confined to airlines. In 2010, airports especially in Europe learned at the School of Real Time Hard Knocks how bad things can be and what to do about it.
One of the many sung heroes of the ash cloud crisis was the Twitter team at Eurocontrol (although some may argue the bosses were also to blame).
Similarly one of the worst affected airports was London Heathrow, but its tweeting did much to keep the public informed. LHR did more than a credible job of using Twitter to get the message out.
I used to believe that Twitter would not scale for large problems, but it can and really does work in these types of situation. The emergence of direct tweeting, and the public nature of it, is helping a lot of people in real time deal with these types of crisis.
More power to the teams who made this all possible.