When Karen Pascoe discovered that American Airlines had lost one of her two cats in the bowels of John F. Kennedy Airport last Thursday, she fired “the tweet heard around the world,” launching a campaign that neither the media nor the airline could ignore.
Pascoe was traveling to California with her cats, Barry and Jack, to start a new job. Because the cats couldn’t fit comfortably in one under-the-seat carrier, she was forced to fly them as cargo. She checked the cats in, said her goodbyes, and watched an American Airlines handler put plastic ties around the kennel doors. Then she went to get some dinner before her plane took off.
Pascoe’s phone rang just before she was about to board her flight: Jack had disappeared, an airline agent told her. Naturally she rushed to the baggage area and began calling the cat’s name as she searched for the missing feline. But eventually she had to give up: her luggage and her other cat were aboard another flight — the last one going to San Francisco before Hurricane Irene made landfall.
Pascoe kept trying to contact American Airlines to find out whether her cat had been found. But she didn’t get any response until almost three days later, when she was informed that not only had airline staff not found Jack, but they “hadn’t been able to get humane traps” and “the last time this happened, it took about a month to find the cat.”
Furious at the lame response, Pascoe set up the Twitter hashtag #findjackthecat. Her sister set up a Facebook page, Jack The Cat is Lost in AA Baggage at JFK. Jack’s story soon caught fire, flashing all over social media networks around the world. The tale of the frightened feline and the asinine airline even caught the attention of the New York Daily News as pleas for coverage poured into its Twitter stream and Facebook page. Scathing comments flooded American Airlines’ social media outlets.
Maybe somebody in American’s marketing department recalled the saga of Dave Carroll and his viral hit, United Breaks Guitars, and realized that the airline was on a crash course for an epic PR disaster if it didn’t do something to show that they gave a rat’s patootie about Pascoe’s cat.
Five days later, the airline posted a public apology on its Facebook page, offered Pascoe a flight back to New York City to look for Jack, and listed all the steps its staff was taking to locate the cat. Many people are still lambasting American for blowing off her calls and the five-day delay in even beginning to take action. Some commenters even posted their own American Airlines pet horror stories on the airline’s Facebook wall.
I’m planning a cross-country move myself, and there’s no way on earth I’d ever fly with my cats. Almost all of the airlines have become infamous for their neglect of animals traveling as cargo. Add to that the fact that very few airlines allow pets to travel in the cabin — and those that do often allow only one pet at a time — and I’ll gladly drive for a week before I ever put my cats in an airplane.
This story should be a lesson for all companies: If you ignore or mistreat your customers, you’ll regret it very quickly! American did lurch into damage-control mode, but it took the airline five days to do so. Five days to even admit there was a problem. Meanwhile, thanks to Facebook and Twitter, hundreds of thousands of people had already seen the story of the disgraceful treatment of Pascoe and Jack.
This should also be a lesson for all animal lovers: We have ourselves a bully pulpit in a world where social media can help us rescue animals, raise money for causes we care about … and give corporations, people, and organizations who don’t take good care of our animal friends the virtual spanking they deserve!