Air Travel: Using social insight to measure the risk of customer departure

A delay at the airport is broadcast on social media within minutes by frustrated travellers. Newton Insight looks into how customers react and the long-term customer retention implications for airlines.

Following our series on the role of social media in personal banking, we recently dipped into the world of air travel to examine how airlines use social channels to support their customers. We were interested in exploring how airlines manage the thorny subject of delays and how operational issues affect the customer relationship.

Our sample was 40k posts published this year by UK air travellers. From this sample we selected three airlines as our focus; British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair. The trend line below shows activity for the first four months of this year:



When assessing passenger attitudes to delays, let’s not pretend the context is anything other than bad. For this reason, a standard sentiment analysis doesn’t deliver usable insights. When a flight is late or cancelled, passengers are quick to complain about it. We know this.

Within the 40k posts examined by Newton Insight, the majority of complaints from passengers offer up a snapshot of the situation, followed by an expression of their state of mind. This is the context + reaction structure common to a lot of content in social networks. The emotional strength of these posts is well within the scope of how people are expected to react when informed of a delay.

Here are some examples. In the interests of fairness, there’s something for each airline to chew on:




Sometimes the strength of reaction is proportionate to the severity of the delay, sometimes it isn’t. For passenger complaints, as with so much in social media, what people say tells us as much about them as it does about the cause of their frustration.

For this next example, the post follows the same context + reaction structure, but the heightened level of frustration is obvious. Fasten your seatbelts everybody…




Emotion is an important signal when seeking to understand how passengers feel about their airline. For their part, airlines accept there will always be criticism when things go wrong. They expect and tolerate a degree of emotional turbulence, at least from the majority of us who turn right at the end of the gate.

But there is a business implication and it lies in analysing the structure of passenger complaints. The risk to airlines comes when an emotional reaction creates an intention.

As before, we have selected examples where passengers of all three airlines are expressing an intention that goes beyond their initial frustration:




Airlines regularly use passenger surveys and brand trackers to measure the strength of their customer relationships. These are useful, but they are slow and do not adjust for changes in the daily experiences of the travelling public, which as we saw in the first chart can be very volatile. So here’s our take on how delays affect customers’ intentions:




Eight per cent of customers say they won’t travel with the airline again, although some of them will – the airlines are betting on it. For people expressing an intention to look elsewhere, we can track their actions over time to see if they make the change. This will give us a more accurate signal for the sector and for each airline.

There’s more work to do and more variables to consider, but we are working on it. The endgame is a model which predicts the impact on ticket sales for each % increase in intention-driven posts.

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