Social Media Turns Tiny Mistakes Into Big Headaches for Delta Airlines

Last Updated Apr 20, 2010 6:27 AM EDT

How many times have you done something stupid? If you're like me, it's probably at least once a day. But for the most part, it doesn't really matter. Nobody is watching, so it's easy to fix my screw-ups. For companies, that used to be the case with small mistakes. If they did something stupid, most people wouldn't hear about it before a fix was in place. Yet in today's world of social media, that's no longer the case -- as Delta Airlines (DAL) recently discovered.

On April 13, Delta changed the page on their website regarding last minute fees for booking award travel. Fees for using miles within three weeks of the date of travel were removed, and people rejoiced. The first post came in on miles-discussion site FlyerTalk that night. Then prominent bloggers like Gary Leff at View From the Wing and Lucky at One Mile at a Time picked it up. As you can imagine, a wave of rejoicing followed this unexpected, customer-friendly move. (Worth noting: It was also a move that United pioneered last year, so the switch was entirely plausible.)

But wait! Turns out, it was just a glitch on the web. In the past, that error would have been small and likely gone unnoticed -- but not in today's world. The FlyerTalk thread climbed to more than 160 comments and the bloggers retracted their initial posts.

Even worse, when the fees came back, they were actually higher than they had been originally. Delta must have intended to publish the new, higher fee levels but instead removed them. It's a simple mistake and stuff happens, but these days even small mistakes find widespread press.

The reaction was as you'd expect: "It was too good to be true" was the general sentiment, but the incident did nothing to endear Delta with its customers. What should airlines do in such situations? There's no one right answer, but at the very least it's important to be as careful as possible with even the smallest of changes, because someone will see them... no matter how trivial they seem.

[Photo via Flickr user Pylon757]