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When you tweet “@” the world’s largest airline, these are the people who answer. Located in a modest cube pen on the fifth floor of the DFW-adjacent American Airlines headquarters, these 35-40 AA employees are tasked with handling an average of 4,500 daily posts and messages on Twitter alone.

Far from being just college interns, this team comes from all parts of American Airlines — reservations, AAdvantage, airport customer service, customer relations and more. Many come from the Executive Platinum desk. And the employees bring plenty of knowledge to the job — while I was there on a recent Wednesday afternoon, two of the team members responding to passengers’ needs had 26 and 22 years of experience at the airline.

AA social media team cube pen

That experience comes in handy when dealing with a wide range of customer issues. While the social team was originally set up to just have a social media presence, now this team is an integral part of the airline’s customer service. Fittingly, the social media team has been expanded and empowered with the tools necessary to help passengers.

For instance, when you call American reservations, the agents there are working in AA’s reservations system. If you call AA’s baggage team, those employees are working in the baggage system. There’s yet another system for the AAdvantage loyalty program. Each team works in its own system… except the social media team. Social media employees have access and training on all of these systems and more.

This means that when you reach out via Twitter or Facebook, the social media team can help you with a wide range of issues. With the exception of discrimination or disability issues — which are referred to a separate AA team dedicated to those areas — everything else is handled by these 35-40 agents.

AA social media stats for 2016

American Airlines’ global operations are 24/7, and so is its social media team. They’re ready to help customers with rebooking after missed connections, finding the status of lost bags, upgrade concerns, refunds of award tickets and much more. And yes, as the face of American Airlines, they are the ones that receive our frustrated tweets.

While I was there, I got to see a sampling of the public messages the team receives via the large data screens. These are the screens that the team can look up at throughout the day to get an idea of what’s happening and where. A few dozen different modules rotate through these six screens, and while only passively monitored, they alert the airline to everything from a potential viral social media post to a life-threatening situation.

AA Social Media Team boards
A sampling of the rotating alert boards showing, clockwise from left (1) Live TV feed (2) AA brand-tagged image tweets (3) Mentions of AA hubs (4) Non-image brand-tagged mentions (5) A recent geo-tagged mention (6) Breaking news hashtagged tweets.

Remember that AA 767 that burst into flames at Chicago’s O’Hare (ORD)? American Airlines’ social media team was alerted to the emergency before anyone else at the airline, as geo-tagged photos of a plane on fire at ORD were all over the team’s screens. The lead agent immediately phoned the team’s agent in the airline’s Integrated Operations Center (the IOC, which is the “nerve center of American Airlines”) to ask if there was an AA aircraft in distress. The directors of the IOC were unaware of the situation yet, but — once they verified its accuracy — went into crisis mode.

There’s also another side to the social media team. The “proactive team” is a pair of two employees that produce public photo and video posts for seven social media platforms. However, you’ll find them heavily on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Working without the assistance of an outside agency and with far fewer members than similar teams at other airlines, this team is also quite overworked. Still, they turn out some really good stuff:

So the next time you need help from someone at American, here are some tips for reaching out to the social media team:

  • Tweet @americanair. Don’t #AmericanAir, #AA, #American or @americanairlines
  • Be understanding. It’s not the social media team’s fault that your AA flight didn’t have a gate for over an hour after landing. So, don’t take your ire out on them via direct message.
  • Keep it short. These agents handle an incredible amount of volume. Try to relay just the pertinent details of your situation.
  • Give them your AAdvantage number (via private message only). By doing this just once, the team is able to link your social media handle to your AAdvantage account in AA’s proprietary Social Network Assistance Program (SNAP). This empowers any agent handling your future tweets or messages by giving them access to a plethora of information, letting them assist you quicker.
  • Don’t expect an immediate answer. Remember that this team is overwhelmed with volume. Until the airline brings on more agents to help, you can expect a bit of a wait. In 2016, the average wait time for a response was 36 minutes. On the day I visited, I saw that the response time was 31 minutes. While algorithms try to highlight urgent needs, I was surprised to see that messages are elite-blind and responded to in chronological order. However, when the wait time gets too long, AAdvantage elites and those with high followers will receive preferential treatment.
  • Check TPG resources first. After all, we might have an answer to your question or concern. No, you weren’t really skipped on the upgrade list. Yes, American Airlines’ seating options are infuriating for non-elites. Here’s how 500-mile upgrades work and the reason why you’re now a lot higher or lower on the upgrade list.

Many thanks to American Airlines’ Beth Moreland for providing my tour and answering my numerous questions. Thanks also to AA spokesperson Sunny Rodriguez for arranging the tour. And, thanks to the social media team themselves for all of their hard work.

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