Winter chaos and the information divide

Merry Christmas everyone!

One of the things that has fascinated me most about the recent winter chaos™ (alongside the 24hr news coverage) has been the way information has been transmitted and distributed across the country. There have often been complaints that too little information is being given, particularly in terms of transportation. The incidents at Heathrow are a prime example of this. There were repeated stories from passengers about a lack of information from the airport and the airlines about their flights.  Interestingly, however, there was possibly more information out there than ever before….it’s just some people weren’t able to obtain it.

Over the past few days, both Heathrow airport and a number of airlines (including the one I am flying with) have used Twitter to proactively communicate with customers about the state of their flights and the airport. Whilst some information has been of negligible value, there has been an attempt to communicate whatever information that is possible to share. However, there are two big drawbacks to this method of communication. Firstly, not everyone is on Twitter. Secondly, not everyone has an Internet connection (whether at home or on their mobile), precluding them not only from Twitter, but also the Heathrow website. Of course, there may have been many at the airport who did have smartphones and were able to access the Internet, but given the length of time that many were stranded, many would have had flat batteries. Furthermore, many people with smartphones may not have Twitter accounts, but this does not mean that they can’t search it. But then, how many people do you know who think that Twitter is all about sharing what you’ve had for lunch and thereby give it a wide berth?

I actually contact the Twitter accounts for both Heathrow airport and my airline (Vueling) in the past few days. Both answered promptly (within about ten minutes) and both dealt with my query in a satisfactory way. The response time was certainly better than I would have expected had I sent an email. But I have both a Twitter account and a smartphone so I am one of the lucky ones. What about those that have neither? They are left to struggle with phoning the airline or the airport and undoubtedly being held in queues waiting for answers. There’s no question who is at an advantage. And this gets to the heart of the information divide and the gap between the information rich and information poor. Those that have the means are able to get information promptly and effectively, those without are left in limbo forced to deal with overloaded call centres (and how much do those phonecalls cost?!) and a lack of information within the airport.

On that note, may I wish all my readers and followers a very merry Christmas and thanks for reading this blog and adding your comments over the past year. Personally speaking, it’s been a pretty exciting year. If 2011 is half as good I’m in for a great year!


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