Digital World, Two-edge Sword

I can’t believe I’ve been in the Big Apple for three weeks. As most of the only children in China, studying abroad is quite an event for me and my family. The day finally came when we sorted out everything, arrived at the airport carrying three pieces of luggage and saying goodbye. Surprisingly, the line for check-in was extremely long, and after almost one hour of waiting, we couldn’t help but overhear someone in line leak the explosive news “the flight to Newark has been cancelled”.

”What?” We highly doubted it at the time, “no updates on the information board yet,” said mom. Later, the news was confirmed by the ground service, turning the whole farewell thing into a dress rehearsal. But, how did he know it before we did?

It’s no magic. For a web 2.0 society, the answer is simple: he just checked his iPhone, utilizing some flight tracking application. Then it’s not hard for us to restore the rest of the story. Probably staff in the U.S has updated the incident on the company website before the ground crew here had a chance to come up with a back-up plan, announce their following arrangement for passengers, or even update the information board!

On our way back home, aunt Sarah wrote on Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, about my flight change, notifying other relatives and friends that I would fly tomorrow. So did I. Among those who tweeted back, one of them is my former colleague in a PR agency. What’s worth mentioning is that the airline is one of her clients. On Twitter, she’s my “friend”, but she also uses it as a working tool now. She said some comforting words to me, but from another angle, she is pacifying a sullen customer as a company rep. Although flight delays are inevitable, passengers still call for proper handling procedures, especially in today’s social media network—a little bad impression can spread instantly and extend limitlessly. To echo the book Reputation Management:

I know I can not.

“Companies that are able to respond quickly to alarms within social media are often able to stop the outcry before it spreads and becomes a crisis.”

I got an apology card when boarding, which invited me to visit the airline’s website and got a voucher for future flights with them (I prefer cash back though). But is digital communication a fit-all channel for consumers? Another airline company asked a woman in her seventies to file a complaint online, even though she was not familiar with the Internet at all. My problem was just that I left one day late but her visa expired because of the flight cancellation. Since she can’t get any help offline, the story ended up with her complaining over the radio, making it officially a crisis for the company.

Generally speaking, the digital communication is an addition to our daily life, especially for an international student like me. When writing this blog, I took a break and had a face time with my parents in Shanghai. Maybe that’s the reason I have not suffered homesickness yet.