I Am Your Stinky SeatMate


With more than twelve hours of flying time and four hours of layover time ahead of me, it was difficult to look forward to a conference where I would give a presentation on social media research to hundreds of people. However, given that the trip would land me in the 13 century city of Stockholm, with its cobblestone streets, ancient palaces, and stunning architecture, the impending cramped legs and utter boredom seemed worthwhile.

My journey began in the Canadian prairies when I parted with my checked luggage at the Saskatoon airport. My luggage immediately headed westbound to Edmonton, a city not even on my eastbound itinerary, and I, after numerous flight delays and a subsequent cancelation, headed back to a hotel room overlooking a garbage dumpster. Leaving for Stockholm would have to wait another 24 hours.

As a vocal marketing researcher who specializes in social listening research, I’ve taken careful steps to maximize my online exposure to as many relevant colleagues as possible. More than seven thousand professionals follow my Twitter account where I share my thoughts about how to conduct high quality social listening research. More than a thousand people have friended my Facebook account, a place where I share some of my marketing research thoughts but far more personal thoughts, opinions, and rants. Nearly four thousand people have connected with my LinkedIn account, a social network for professionals and business people, many of whom travel – a lot.

What does that mean? It means that more than seven thousand people on Twitter, plus the thousands of people they shared my tweets with, were exposed to my frustrations via tweets labeled @AirCanada, #IAmYourStinkySeatMate, and #LostLuggage. On Twitter, I shared the fact that my ‘free’ breakfast voucher did not cover the cost of a basic breakfast. I shared images of the highly fragrant toiletries I received but could not use, including an advertisement for the toiletries themselves. I shared my disappointment in not also receiving a t-shirt (easy resolution), socks (easy resolution), or underwear (Yes, I’ll admit, difficult.). Since tweets are public, and they are now searchable in social media listening results and Google search results for years to come, I was careful to maintain a mild level of professionalism during my frustrations.

On the flip side however, Facebook has a higher degree of privacy than Twitter. In the best case scenario, only the thousand people I am friends with on Facebook will ever see what I post there. It is there, on Facebook, that a thousand of my closest friends listened, watched, and sympathized with how I really felt. On Facebook, my close friends and family, the people who are most influenced by my personal opinions and brand experiences, listened as I bemoaned how my luggage was lost before I even saw an airplane. They sympathized as I wandered from airport to airport, from help desk to help desk, asking agents for the whereabouts of my luggage. Thousands of people saw the brand name Air Canada next to phrases like “Your bag probably fell off the line” and “We can’t seem to locate your luggage but it will probably be in London.” My friends and family saw images of the pathetic hotel room I was given, and 6 second Vine videos of toiletries that I couldn’t use because they weren’t what my doctor recommended.

It wasn’t only Air Canada that failed me though. There were many opportunities for other companies to become knights in shining armour. A desperate tweet to Aveeno led nowhere. No tweets of sympathy, no surprise package waiting for me at the end of my journey. And oh, how I longed for clean socks and underwear, precious items nowhere to be found in the airports. A tweet to Hanes resulted in no sympathy tweets nor offers to supply the items either. Though fellow tweeters also shared my call for assistance with their thousands of followers, nothing happened. I could have been profusely praising Aveeno and Hanes right now but, rather, I am sharing my disappointment in a very public forum.

But let’s ignore the cancelled flight and lost bags for a moment. What were Air Canada’s biggest fails, the reasons that I ended up being so vocal?

They passed the buck. They expected me to find and speak to the right person after getting off an eight hour flight. They should have done the speaking for me. They have the computer system in front of them. They know the right people to talk to. They know how all the airports and airlines work. They should have greeted me at my next connection with a message updating me on status of my lost luggage. Instead, I tweeted.

They chose the wrong language. They “invited” me to speak with an agent on my arrival at a strange airport in a foreign country. Perhaps I misunderstood, but I was not begin invited to a birthday party. They seemed to have forgotten who made the mistake. So I Facebooked my disappointment.

They chastised me. With a presentation to hundreds of my colleagues on the horizon, forgive me when I do anything I can to find the luggage with my presentation clothes and shoes. Of course I send both tweets and Facebook messages to Air Canada. There was no need to slap my hand with a patronizing comment that my messages had already been answered elsewhere.

And on that note, have you heard about Chester the Cat? Hundreds of retweets later, thousands of sympathic followers later, and millions of highly memorable and salient social media impressions later, Chester the Cat was finally found on June 18, 2014 after being lost by Air Canada for an entire month. Skinny but alive. I’m glad I only lost my luggage.

One response

  1. After spending the last few years traveling extensively throughout the globe, I have come to a conclusion: airlines just don’t care. They don’t care whether the fact that your flight arrived late meant that you missed your connection and were forced to sleep in the airport in Rome. They don’t care whether they accidentally shipped your baggage to London while you went to Moscow, and if (god forbid), you accidentally left your passport on the plane and discovered it only moments after disembarking, they won’t bother to actually search for it near your former seat. Part of the issue, I think, is that they don’t have much motivation to care. As the cost of airplane tickets skyrockets, most of us are forced to choose our flights based on price, rather than based on which airlines provide the best service. I suspect that before long we’ll be forced to pay extra if we want to sit rather than endure standing-room only conditions.

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