January 7, 2014 4:13 pm
Updated: January 8, 2014 1:11 pm

Pearson Airport criticized for lack of communication during storm


Watch the video above: Global News reporter Jennifer Palisoc gives us the latest on the delays and the frustration at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

TORONTO – Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is in hot water after what is being described as a lack of communication with travellers over social media after bad weather forced the airport to implement a “ground stop” Tuesday morning, halting arrivals for hours.

Thousands of frustrated and irate travellers were stuck waiting at the country’s largest airport after officials said extreme cold weather caused equipment to freeze, meaning planes were not permitted to land.

READ MORE: Delays continue after ground stop lifted at Toronto’s Pearson airport

But online, Pearson was being criticized by social media users for not doing enough to keep them in the know about the situation.

NDP MP Olivia Chow also tweeted concerns about Pearson’s communication tweeting, “Yes, workers’ safety is important but stuck on plane is a horrible experience. @TorontoPearson needs better communication.”

The Twitter account later responded to Chow’s tweet with a statement that read, “The GTAA and its airport partners do have comprehensive plans. With today’s extreme weather situation the safety of passengers and employees is our biggest priority. We ask for understanding and patience.”

According to Pearson Airport’s Twitter feed, a new tweet regarding the ground stop was issued every half hour to hour starting at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.  The account was responding directly to some users tweets off and on throughout the morning; however it appeared the account was more active with users after the ground stop ended at 10 a.m.

Adding insult to injury, Pearson’s website began experiencing intermittent outages around 9:30 a.m. due to high traffic volumes – making it more difficult to relay information.

A spokesperson for Pearson Airport’s communication team told Global News Tuesday that the team did its best to respond to as many tweets as it could, given the volume.

According to the spokesperson, they are investigating why the airport’s website failed in order to prevent further instances.

The Morning Show debates: Do airlines bear some of the blame for polar vortex-related delays?

But not everyone was as quick to judge Pearson on its social media strategy.

Media professor at Queen’s University Sidneyeve Matrix said that the airport’s communication team seemed to maintain a pretty good social media presence throughout the ordeal, given the circumstances.

“People travel with their phones and that means that they have a direct line to Pearson Airport or to [the airlines] – or so they expect to. I think that’s what’s key here is managing expectations,” Matrix told Global News.

“Our expectations are that we are going to hear back from a live person with [an] answer immediately –and that’s hard for any business, especially in crisis mode.”

After looking through Pearson’s Twitter activity, Matrix said she felt that there was a good mix of direct reply’s to users versus “stock responses” from the account – although those she noted the direct responses appeared to stop and the account switched to a “general broadcast” mode at a certain point.

“The gold standard for brand communication on Twitter would be real-time information, not stock responses. As we’ve been seeing today there have been a lot of “@” responses, which shows their social media managers are doing their best to direct people to where to find the information,” she said.

Pearson’s Twitter account remained active into the afternoon, even tweeting users best wishes on their travels.

In fact, after some of the chaos had died down in the afternoon, the account even offered one user advice on how to apply for an internship with the GTAA.

In retrospect, Pearson’s Twitter account sent out only five tweets on Monday after more than 280 flights to and from the airport were cancelled or delayed due to the winter storm. The night of the ice storm that pummelled Toronto, the account only sent one tweet, urging users to check their flight status before leaving for the airport.

But Matrix also noted that the responsibility equally lies on the airlines to keep communication alive online.

“It’s an important moment for airlines to be there for their clients and to have that information about where they should go and what they should do in an emergency – also to warn people who have not headed out for the airport of what they can expect,” said Matrix.

“It would be awesome if all the airlines could collaborate a social media response.”

Air Canada was tweeting Tuesday morning, encouraging customers to check their flight status in light of the weather conditions.

Though West Jet did make mention of the baggage situation in Toronto, the account only tweeted once Tuesday.

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