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When city airport tweets, flyers 'like' it

Unable to use the pram service at the Mumbai airport, Chinmay Gavankar, a miffed Vasai resident, instantly posted his displeasure on the airport's Facebook page on Tuesday.
Hindustan Times | By Soubhik Mitra, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2012 01:18 AM IST

Unable to use the pram service at the Mumbai airport, Chinmay Gavankar, a miffed Vasai resident, instantly posted his displeasure on the airport's Facebook page on Tuesday.

Gavankar's grouse was valid: the prams were chained together and locked. Next to them was a placard carrying a helpline number for any assistance. While Gavankar was juggling his year-old-son and luggage, a quick online response from the airport operator cooled him down.

"We regret the inconvenience caused to you. We would like to inform you that there have been instances of prams being taken on flight by passengers. Hence, the prams are kept in a locked state and details of passengers are sought before provisioning. We value your feedback and would try exploring future possibility of having a manned facility for quick access," read the response on the airport's Facebook page.

The freedom to rant and the assurance of being heard and attended to in real time is making a small but growing number of air travellers such as Gavankar use social networking platforms to interact with the airport operator.

"I could not use the pram service, but at least my problem was noticed. Hopefully, I might not face the problem when I travel next," said Gavankar, an Information Technology professional.

Gavankar's hope for change isn't unrealistic. The Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) recently brought in two major changes acting on passenger feedback on social media forums. Until a couple of months ago, a passenger had to wait for a text message from the airport operator to use the wi-fi at the terminals. The process was cumbersome and travellers were frequently tweeting and posting comments about delay in receiving the log-in code. Taking heed, the airport altered the procedure. It now has a dedicated information desk that hands out log-in codes over the counter.

In the second case, a mobile application service offering information on facilities ranging from location of restaurants to Forex counters within the terminal was inaccessible for smartphone users other than those using a Blackberry. "Responding to several requests on Facebook and Twitter, we made the service available on Android as well as the iPhone," said an MIAL spokesperson.

Since the airport arrived on the social media scene, 10 months ago, it has found 1,761 'followers' on Twitter and 1,778 'likes' on Facebook. On an average day, airport staffers engage in 10 to 12 conversations comprising queries, complaints and suggestions with fliers. This maybe a minuscule number given that close to 80,000 travelers use the airport every day.

However, passengers feel interactions using social media channels are a welcome departure from the endless wait for airport staffers to give basic information such as the boarding gate for your flight.

"Until a year ago, there were several occasions when I had to wait for nearly 20 minutes for simple queries to be answered. But the same questions get answered in no time when asked on Facebook, Twitter or even through emails sent to airport operator now," said Vineet Krishan, a Mulund-based web designer. Irrespective of the response time, he insists that fliers' should voice their opinion. "Expressing yourself on a public forum will either make them accountable or expose them," added the 33-year-old, who travels at least once a week.

In a bid to engage with more people MIAL has launched a contest on Twitter called #beforeifly, which became the top trending topic of the day on the micro-blogging site (see box for details). "We have plans to run such contests more frequently to connect better with passengers," said the MIAL spokesperson.

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