More than 46.3 million people, the largest population in the last 8 years, planned to travel over Thanksgiving this year. 3.55 million of those travelers would fly.
Each year the holiday season is filled with buzz about the terrible ordeal people will face to travel home, or wherever their final destination may be. But when we use 4C Insight’s analytics platform to look at social data — data that comes directly from travelers during their journey — a different story emerges.
First, we collected data from seven major domestic airlines, Alaskan, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United, and Virgin over a normal week in mid-November to understand what an average week looks like in the context of travelers discussing the top airlines. Then we looked at Thanksgiving week, starting with Monday going through Sunday to see how opinions changed.
With an increased number of travelers, we expected to see an increase in the volume of social engagement with airlines. For most of the week, social engagement is comparable to a normal week. Not until after Thanksgiving, when travelers are heading home is there an increase above the November baseline.
We also expected to see an increase in negative sentiment, especially as social engagement increased when post-holiday weary travelers returned home. Instead, negative sentiment was on average below the November baseline.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is frequently billed “the worst travel day of the year,” but our analysis shows the day is no different than any other day in the minds of travelers. Even on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, despite more than 3,000 flights being delayed or cancelled, negative sentiment did not surpass a typical November weekend.
In fact, most of the sentiment was positive. Only three airlines were outliers with notably different Thanksgiving weeks than the November baseline. Two of these can be explained by unusual circumstances that caused a flury of negative social media activity and are unrelated to holiday travel.
JetBlue started well, but their week took a turn for the worse when they banned online influencer Matthew Lush from a flight for identifying a customer service representative by name and inciting his followers to tweet threatening things at her. When denied boarding, Lush responded on Twitter and his followers responded with their support by tweeting with the hashtag #BoycottJetBlue.
— Matthew Lush (@MatthewLush) November 25, 2014
— Vinny Vaillancourt (@vtothepowerof2) December 2, 2014
American Airlines was having an unremarkable week until Sunday when Flight 67 inbound from Barcelona received a bomb threat and had to evacuate on the tarmac. Twitter became the main outlet for information as passengers tweeted about the ordeal.
Alaskan Airlines had a much better holiday with no major hitches. For the entire Thanksgiving week, the carrier recorded higher than the average positive sentiment.
Our analysis shows travelers are much happier with their holiday travels than the experience that is sensationalized. Social media is key to improved traveler sentiment despite crowded airports, full flights, and inopportune weather. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter enable customers and airlines to be well-informed, thereby reducing uncertainty and streamlining travel. As such, social media will continue to be crucial to airlines and should be used communicate positive and negative developments to travelers throughout their journeys.