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KLM Shows How to Use Social Media During Ash crisis, and Air France How Not to

by Jeffrey Mann  |  April 18, 2010  |  27 Comments

I spent a good part of the weekend surfing web sites to find more information about how the volcano eruption in Iceland is decimating travel in Europe; partly because it is a fascinating event, but mostly because my wife is in Canada and wants to get home.

image I booked her tickets using points on, so that has been the first place I go for most information, which has been pretty good. The information page is kept reasonably up to date, with clear information on the options available to stranded passengers. The web site didn’t work to change reservations, but in an event of this size I would expect some problems. I was very impressed with KLM’s outreach via social media, primarily Twitter and a Facebook page. There was a fairly constant stream of updates with links to the latest information, and answers to individual questions. KLM used these channels to publicize their pressure on regulatory authorities to open up European air space after conducting several test flights without incident.

Air France was another story. Her flights are operated by Air France. Their web site with official info was rarely updated and had little information about how to rebook or what the terms and conditions for changes or refunds (some information was added on Sunday). The Twitter feed was utterly silent. The most recent post from the company on its Facebook page was from February. It was obvious that Air France did not really want to use these social media channels during this crisis.

Even though Air France and KLM are two brands within the same company, they took radically different approaches to using social media during this unprecedented crisis in the European travel industry. While KLM embraced it, Air France ignored it. The results were clearly visible in comments on their respective Facebook walls. KLM’s were generally favourable, with lots of people thanking them for their efforts. Certainly, some complained and the worst of them were deleted, but the comment stream was not overly sanitized. The Air France page mostly contained astonishment from fans that the company was doing so little to communicate with or help customers.

The chaos created by the volcanic ash cloud presented unique difficulties for travelers and airlines alike. Huge events like this also present unique opportunities. I’m sure that the companies that grasp them will enjoy benefits long after the crisis has passed. While getting stranded is never fun, the goodwill created by KLM through Twitter and Facebook will persist. I suspect that for the Air France customers who went to social media channels, it is mostly the irritation that will remain.

Category: cloud  europe  personal  social-media  social-software  

Tags: ashcloud  ashtag  airfrance  facebook  klm  social-media  twitter  volcano  

Jeffrey Mann
Research VP
20 years with Gartner and META Group
30 years IT industry

Jeffrey Mann is a Research VP at Gartner, covering cloud office, collaboration and social software.

Thoughts on KLM Shows How to Use Social Media During Ash crisis, and Air France How Not to

  1. paco says:

    hi there, the official Air France twitter account is NOT the one you were referring to. It’s the following one

  2. paco says:

    Regarding facebook, it depends from which country you’re from, from UK Air France facebook account is the following
    and KL UK account the following one

    And from US, AF twitter account is

  3. Indeed. I have also been following very closely their social media flow during this crisis across the European skies. Their main difference I believe is the official vs. the unofficial administration of those social media channels.

    KLM has chosen to run one local and main Twitter account, in addition to many local country based for sales and offers.

    Air France, on the other hand, is doing an unofficial administration of such social media accounts – run locally by employees in the respective countries, thus the whole work is on the employees part that are actually not working on Social Media but doing it on the side. It is a strategy that AF has probably chosen as to experiment further with the use of social media and considering it for the future.
    Therefore the main and official communication channels for Air France as stated in your article too, has been through their website and of course call centres that were in full operation during these last days.

    It would be extremely interesting if the two airlines, part of the same group, will – after the crisis across the European skies is over – exchange valuable feedback on the use of social media during such times and exchange experiences. Of course, as we see KLM has a lot to come up with, I’m sure.

  4. Danika Prado says:

    As a person that works indirectly for the AF/KLM group I have to say that the AF reaction on twitter didn’t surprised me, looks actually very normal. AF in Paris has establish a flexible set of rules and each local escale acts on those. They are not interested in the details.Because of that the communication strategy looks old. AF believes that each problem can have a better response if is given at its local level. KLM is not like that.They need to control everything and I need to call them for any problem. Also the feedback is faster at KLM. Thats why KLM can have a coherent communication strategy because they know the situation in every hub and the people from there-like me- expect them to take decision for everything.

  5. It’s interesting as it reminds me of Eurostar and Eurotunnel back in December when four Eurostars got stuck in the Eurotunnel because of the “wrong kind of snow”.

    – Eurostar used a marketing twitter handle @little_break provide information, quite late in the game, because they had let someone else register @eurostar

    – Eurotunnel was even more useless as they home page was a plain text advice to call a telephone number, which directed callers onto an answerphone intimating people to call that same telephone number.

    Mainstream media wasn’t better, as the PR team did not come back with much news during the WE and only managed to be proactive again 48h after the incident had started.

    Travellers tweets proved the best way to keep appraised of the situation, being at least 2 hours ahead of the best mainstream media (BBC radio Kent).

    One of the ourcomes of the post-incident inquiry prompted Eurostar to significantly update their crisis communication capabilities, see this blog post:

  6. Jeffrey Mann says:

    Air France added this notice to their Facebook page yesterday evening.

    Ceci n’est pas la page officielle d’Air France. Pour plus d’information,
    rendez-vous sur

    This is not the Air France official page. For further information please
    go to

  7. Jeffrey Mann says:


    That is an interesting perspective. Usually, it is the de-centralized organizations that do better with social media, since individual initiatives are often what count. It doesn’t seem to work that way here, though.

    Thank you for your comment.

  8. […] generalities on the FCO website are not nearly enough… [Relatedly: KLM masters social media. Air France […]

  9. […] and amongt the various Tweets, I saw a link to a note by Gartner analyst Jeff Man who talks to the different uses of social media by KLM and Air France. He says: I was very […]

  10. Jeffrey Mann says:

    @PierreTran on Twitter has pointed out that Air France is somewhat more active on @airfranceFR; 5 tweets since the crisis began.
    Still, it’s better than nothing.

  11. Antoine says:

    You are wrong. AF Twitter account is

  12. Jos Uijterwaal says:

    KLM is currently reworking their website and simplifying it. The amount of visitors causes the hardware to overload. By putting a simpler website online they hope to be able to inform customers better to the current situation. Found here: (in Dutch but google translate should make it readable for you)

  13. […] KLM Shows How to Use Social Media During Ash crisis, and Air France How Not to [Gartner] Tagged:annoyancesauflyingsocial networking […]

  14. A.C. Chan says:

    Interesting contrast here. Reading through the comments, one thing that stuck out was some confusion around Air France’s “official” Twitter/FB page. Other than website and social media channels, I wonder what other mediums they employed like email, SMS, etc? And, I also wonder which were the farthest reaching or most effective?

  15. That does not surprise me at all. Same experience in december, and no lesson learned.
    I’m an AirFrance Frequent Flyer, I love this airline and I never had to complain about their IRL service but I was forced to admit that KLM did (and is still doing) an outstanding job.

    I wrote a few takes about this experience earlier :

  16. Rory Bernard says:

    I had two different flights with AirFrance over the last weekend both got cancelled. Luckily I managed to rearrange with some quick bookings on Eurostar. The twitter feed and site that I found most helpful was EuroControls.Tweets came out regularly and with good links to other reports and information. The Airfrance site was ok but pretty late, the KLM site was somewhat better.
    The worst part of it came afterwards though when AirFrance told me I only had a week two reroute both tickets or lose them (clearly illegal and impossible). No amount of “been Platinum Flying Blue for 8 years” helped either. Very poor customer service and generally I have had very good from AF over the years.

  17. Jeffrey Mann says:

    This has been a very interesting thing to follow. While this experience has not been pleasant for any of the travelers affected, it has been even worse for the airlines. They have lost millions of euros, as well as going through very stressful times. I have a great deal of respect for the customer service people who have been working so hard to help often irate customers.

    I noticed that Air France has significantly picked up their social media efforts, particularly on Twitter through @AirFranceFR. Both KLM and Air France are helping customers rebook via Twitter. KLM is also doing this on Facebook.

    And Air France was able to find a connection for my wife to get home, so thanks!

  18. […] KLM Shows How to Use Social Media During Ash crisis, and Air France How Not to […]

  19. Abu says:

    I do feel that in any crisis or before any crisis a organization servicing the general population should always incorporation or provide a platform for public awareness. I think the airline industry must always invest in technology that enhance their brand and keep current with the needs of its customers.

  20. Nirmal Karki says:

    The unpredictable natural events like this created exceptional tribulations for the passengers and airlines. However, crisis of the European Skies also opened the door of opportunity for airline like KLM to interact with their worried customers through Social Media. I personally like KLM’s approach through Facebook and Twitter to reach their customers in crisis and answer their queries. It is said that “a friend in need is a friend indeed,” KLM’s dedicated approach to listen to the customers and share information will be always remembered by the passengers. This helps KLM to retain the customers and increase their brand loyalty.

    On the other hand, the troubled passengers from Air France will also remember this incident, but in an awful way. This might affect the brand image of Air France negatively. Customers might think twice before booking an Air France ticket.

    As a social media marketing student, I appreciate KLM’s approach to help their customers in crisis using Social Media. I am positive that this event will surely help to increase its brand equity amongst the air travelers.

  21. Anubhav Tiwari says:

    It is surprising that when an ash cloud from Iceland’s volcano silenced the skies over Europe brands like Air France ignored the communication channels of the social media. It not only affects their reputation, but also has shown their lack of approach towards customer services. Today they are using social media, like Twitter and Facebook, to market themselves as well as communicate with customers. They should not forget that during a time of crisis, these tools are critical. KLM, on the other hand, has definitely done a good job using social media which has helped them to be one of the top airlines in the world. I believe it really matters how you make use of technology in times of crises. Social media is a good way to pass the information and keep in contact with customers. It really does matter if a large company takes advantage of their social media; officially or unofficially.

  22. What we don’t know about the KLM activity is the effect it has had on each person who was exposed to the people who got gifts.

    There could have been anywhere from a few dozen people to a few thousand people or more (via face to face conversations to facebook/twitter followers etc).

    If each of those people now think of KLM in a slightly more positive light, then would that be a positive return of investment?

    Would an activity like this differentiate KLM in the airline market place enough to make potential KLM customers think twice about flying KLM?

  23. […] zorgde ervoor dat vele duizenden reizigers strandden in Europa. KLM slaagde erin de crisis adequaat te managen door een goed voorbereid webcare team in te zetten dat via Facebook en Twitter gestrande reizigers […]

  24. […] el caso, por ejemplo, de KLM que convirtió una crisis en la oportunidad de transformarse definitivamente en una empresa social. […]

  25. […] el caso, por ejemplo, de KLM que convirtió una crisis en la oportunidad de transformarse definitivamente en una empresa social. […]

  26. […] used one of the biggest aviation crisis to set themselves apart (Read this piece by Jeffrey Mann from Gartner) from the rest of the industry. But it wasn’t all about integrating […]

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