Alaska Airlines, one of the first carriers to offer e-tickets and to rely on the web for in-house communications, has advanced into the collaborative community outreach of the next-generation of the web with a site that lets passengers share memorable travel stories. The ‘Your Alaska Stories‘ site invites flyers to share stories and experiences, post pictures and so on. The first few offerings have been fairly soft, such as ‘Big Girl’s Trip to SFO’ and ‘Mom’, about family experiences, with snapshots uploaded as well. Similar to the blogs that a few carriers, led by Southwest, have introduced, this is perhaps the deepest foray yet by an airline into what’s called ‘social networking,’ a key element of what Forrester’s Henry Harteveldt calls Web 2.0. Some fare-search and supplier sites have invited this kind of collaborative input, with blogs and reviews, but these have often served as outlet valves for unhappy travellers who see airlines as targets of their anger. Marking the carrier’s 75th anniversary next year, the Alaska site also invites airline employees and retirees to contribute.
Other carriers have been far more subtle about their entrance into blogging: Midwest Airlines, long known as Midwest Express, launched an affiliated blog in September, but revealed it only in November. This one, girlfriendsgetaway.wordpress.com, is different: it’s explicitly aimed at women with postings about shopping, museums, hotels and other attractions in the cities on the Midwest route map. The author, however, has been really there and done that: Tish Robinson, a writer in the Milwaukee-based airline’s marketing department, does the blog on her own, based on her personal experiences.
Tish – represented by a cute, retro line-drawing that portrays her as the sort of woman one would see in 1970s advertisement about young, modern women who would still be sort-of hip and a smart shopper if and when she becomes a housewife – works for the airline, but tries to keep the carrier out of her postings. Trish will post Midwest promotional fares and special deals she gets from hotels or retail stores that gave discounts to her readers. The relationship between the blog and the airline is low-key but not hidden, with links from the Midwest consumer website and some search-engine links, says Midwest chief marketing officer Scott Dickson. Woman-to-woman blogging is a booming field, according to the BlogHer website, and may be a natural connection to the fact that women are often the key purchase-deciders when it comes to discretionary and leisure travel. Tish tells us that the idea came about from research her boss requested, but that the blog is very much a personal task, dedicated to what she calls her free sprit: “I’m always upbeat and ready to go, ready to try new things, with my bag on my shoulder”. She says that if she really likes a hotel, a restaurant or another attraction, she will ask for a deal for her readers: “and it’s not necessarily a discount. Sometimes it’s just fresh flowers in the room. And it’s always after the fact”. No one has yet to say no to a Tish request.Tish says she’s happy to be able to visit places on her own rather than escorting her kids’ eight-grade class.
It is not she insists an advertisement. “The readers get it that it’s a Midwest Airlines blog. All the links to airlines features are to Midwest even though we don’t use the logo, but no one has said anything suggesting that it’s anything but a Midwest site”. The airline isn’t now thinking about a blog for men, and Tish says that all at Midwest felt that a blog from the CEO or from the technical people at the airline wouldn’t quite get across the airline’s character or her own personality. The airline has always had a Midwestern personality, sort of slightly more relaxed and more affluent cousin of Northwest Airlines: whereas Northwest would feel it’s been hospitable just by getting you there, Midwest has done things like offer chocolate chip cookies fresh-baked on board.