COVID-19 ravaged the airline industry at the very onset of the pandemic. According to a June report from The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the industry has lost a whopping $84.3 billion since the outbreak began. America’s largest air carriers are facing massive layoffs in the months to come as well. In an effort to mitigate losses, airlines are pushing back against social distancing guidelines. But it’s not playing well for their social media presence nor is it mitigating job losses.
On Facebook, all of the nation’s largest carriers all saw drops in page likes with the exception of Southwest ($NYSE:LUV). Budget carriers fared better than their more traditional counterparts. JetBlue ($NASDAQ:JBLU) lost about .2% of its Facebook followers. Southwest stayed fairly steady. Meanwhile, Delta ($NYSE:DAL) lost nearly .5%, and United ($NYSE:UAL) and American Airlines ($NASDAQ:AAL) each lost about 1% of likes. This drop comes in tandem with a growing number of countries banning American travelers. As traditional carriers have a larger international footprint than their budget counterparts, consumers have a smaller need to keep abreast of those air carriers' moves on social media.
There's a similar shift on Twitter amongst America’s three international carriers. Since April, both Delta and United have lost almost 2% of their followers respectively. American saw a 1.5% decrease.
Among budget carriers, JetBlue is of particular interest. The New York City-based carrier lost tens of thousands of Twitter followers, and not necessarily because of a reduction in air travel. It can also be attributed to a notable PR flop in early May. They lost over 1% of followers in just two and a half months.
In an effort to salute first responders, the airline conducted a low altitude flyover display in New York much like the blue angels did weeks before. The flyover went past lower manhattan. That did not sit well with consumers, who said the stunt sparked memories of 9/11.
My dad still has PTSD from watching the second plane hit the WTC. So excited for this! https://t.co/oXUTSTYca5— Rebecca Fishbein (@bfishbfish) May 7, 2020
It took me 5 years to stop having plane crash nightmares after witnessing 9/11. I *still* get nervous when I see a plane flying too low by the Empire State Building. But thanks, @JetBlue. https://t.co/7G5ueeDhG0— Theresa DeLucci (@tdelucci) May 7, 2020
While there has been a decline in the airlines' social media traffic, there have been a few recent spikes in Facebook chatter. JetBlue’s Facebook mentions surged 810% in May following the flyover stunt. Delta also recently saw a surge on Facebook -- up 431% in the last day. Unlike JetBlue, it's for a good reason. “If you board the plane and you insist on not wearing your mask, we will insist that you don't fly Delta into the future.” Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines said on the TODAY show Wednesday morning. The airline has already barred hundreds of passengers who refused to wear masks when aboard their aircrafts.
This also comes amid industry-wide layoffs. LinkedIn’s employee headcounts dropped across all carriers over the last six months. Since the beginning of the pandemic, JetBlue saw about a 1.5% reduction in its LinkedIn headcount. Delta lost about 1% as did United although the Chicago-based air carrier had a headcount spike in early June. Southwest lost about 1% since the beginning of the pandemic. American dropped .7% reduction
The months to come are expected to be much worse. Last week American Airlines announced they will soon lay off a whooping 25,000 workers in the coming months. Meanwhile United Airlines reportedly may lay off around 36,000 employees. Delta and Southwest will also reduce their workforces.
Airlines are struggling with their public image amid layoffs, reduced services and questionable PR initiatives. Only time will tell if their trajectory will improve or if the worst is yet to come.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.