Commercial air travel is often misery by design, whether someone is designing the next ridiculously uncomfortable seat or airlines are hiding data so you can't find the best deals. Or new basic economy rates are the same price as the old lowest fares, except with fewer privileges, like not being able to change your flight or put a bag in the overhead bin without paying more. Which means that that the lowest fares aren't necessarily all that low.

As in so many things, checking with people about their experiences can sometimes steer you to better choices or at least warn you to double-check that deal you're about to get. Here's some help. A company called 4C Insights uses big data techniques and special analytic algorithms, among other things, to pull insights from social media for corporate brands. They agreed to put together some custom data on airlines.

During the week of February 13 through 19, 4C captured data on a dozen different airlines from both Twitter and Facebook. Computers and those helpful algorithms went through the data and ranked it as either positive or negative comments about the various airline brands. Here are the results:

The reason there's so much Facebook traffic about Emirates is because the company had a special plane for Valentine's Day. My guess is that much of the positive traffic was people sharing news reports about the vehicle.

Notice that, on the whole, Facebook sentiments were significantly higher. I'd take that to mean that Facebook gets more fans, or people trying to qualify for special deals, than general public. Either that, or the cynics and complainers prefer either Twitter as a platform or a limit on how much typing you can possible do. But it's clear that people on Twitter don't seem very impressed with most airlines. For some context, here's a second table showing sentiment on the top ten brands in a number of different categories. Only telecommunications seems to drop down to the levels of airlines.

Because 4C measured positive sentiment, any value below 50 percent means that more people were negative than positive about the brand. At the very bottom is Spirit Airlines, which, according to some people I've spoken with, is an acquired taste.

I asked Paul Berry, Spirit's director of corporate communications, about its low score. He said, "I think you're going to see people who are flying Spirit for the first time and not knowing the model." If you're unfamiliar with their way of doing business, it's absolutely bare bones. Seats don't recline, you aren't going to get a bottle of water, and you'll have to pay extra to put a bag in the overhead bin. (Plus, you pay even more if you wait until you're at the airport to choose that option.)

"We certainly have seen people saying they will never fly Spirit again and then they fly two months later," Berry said, chalking it up to people ultimately voting with their wallets, because the flights can be wickedly cheap. But while the airline's website tries to make plain the additional charges and how they can go up if you do things at the last minute, third party sites like online travel agencies don't provide all the information.

So, take everything, including Internet opinions, with a grain of salt. (Who would have thought it?) But also recognize that if some airlines are getting the nod more than others, there might be a reason.

Published on: Feb 23, 2017