It is also the second-busiest airport by total passenger traffic in the U.K. after Heathrow, and is the base for popular scheduled U.K. airlines; British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, low-cost carrier easyJet and charter operators such as Thomas Cook Airlines.

On the morning of Tuesday 19th December, Gatwick Airport was preparing for another busy day in the run up to Christmas. With an estimated 3m people due to pass through the airport over the festive period, this was due to be the busiest Christmas in the airport’s history.

Over the next 24 hours, news started to break of a severe disruption involving an unidentified drone flying in the no fly zone above the runway at Gatwick Airport, while a major crisis started to gain traction as officials and airlines tried to deal with the potential safety issues affecting passengers trying to get out of the country…

With Gatwick remaining closed over night after reports of two drones flying over its airfield at around 9pm on Wednesday 20th December. Operators attempted to reopen the runway at 3am on Thursday 21st December, but with further drone sightings being reported, and the British military being deployed, Gatwick was forced to close again 45 minutes later.

At this point, thousands of disgruntled passengers were flocking to social media sites messaging airlines seeking advice and information as they faced the reality of severe disruptions to flights that were being cancelled or redirected to other airports.

In this exclusive insight series in collaboration with Conversocial — the digital customer care platform for social messaging, we take a closer look at the performance of the UK’s airline carriers during the Gatwick Drone Crisis.

U.K Airlines Social Customer Service Performance During the Gatwick Drone Crisis

Best Overall Performers

The British Airways team came out on top as the best overall providers of customer service during the Gatwick Drone Crisis with the best aggregate score* across inbound volume, response rate, responses under 30 mins and sentiment amongst customers.

*Accounts are programmatically scored out of 100 on our performance index across four metrics. Inbound mention volumes (25%), Response Rate (25%), Responses under 30 mins (25%) and Sentiment (25%). All metrics are available and updated every hour on

1st: British Airways
2nd: Thomas Cook Cares
3rd: Virgin Atlantic
4th: easyJet

Below is the break down on how each airline performed for customer service on Twitter.

Inbound Volumes

British Airways were the busiest airline on Twitter with 4,784 mentions received from 19th — 21st December, followed by low cost airline easyJet, Virgin Atlantic with Thomas Cook Cares receiving the least amount of mentions.

  1. British Airways (4,784)
  2. easyJet (3714)
  3. Virgin Atlantic (1275)
  4. Thomas Cook Cares (500)

Response Rate

Thomas Cook Cares, who did not cancel any flights, were the most responsive during the Gatwick Drone Crisis responding to 67% of mentions received. Followed by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet.

  1. Thomas Cook Cares (67%)
  2. British Airways (30%)
  3. Virgin Atlantic (20%)
  4. easyJet (10%)

Responses under 30mins

Thomas Cook Cares were the fastest airline to respond to customers, achieving a fantastic 97% of responses in under 30 mins.

  1. Thomas Cook Cares (97%)
  2. Virgin Atlantic (62%)
  3. British Airways (23%)
  4. easyJet (9%)


From 19th — 21st December all of the UK airline carriers performed above average for positive sentiment in their interactions with passengers on Twitter. This is testament to staff and passengers for how they conducted themselves on social media during a frustrating 3 days in the run up to Christmas.

  1. Virgin Atlantic (+16)
  2. British Airways (+12)
  3. Thomas Cook Cares (+11)
  4. easyJet (+5)



More than 140,000 passengers were affected by about 1,000 cancellations and delays during the Drone Crisis at Gatwick Airport. With people reportedly being stuck on planes for hours, missing family holidays, job interviews and finding themselves landing at airports they were not expecting.

Given the unprecedented volume of messages received by the UK’s airline carriers over this period, each of the respective social media teams did a stellar job in supporting passengers who were in desperate need of help and advice. With information not always readily available as events unfolded, each of the social media customer care teams did their best to manage expectations and respond quickly with personalised responses to passengers who were severely disrupted on the ground.

However, we feel much credit needs to be also given to passengers affected by the drone crisis at Gatwick. In general the public showed a great deal of understanding of the situation when messaging airlines on social media, with the vast majority of passengers showing a great deal of restraint, avoiding unnecessary blame, and instead choosing to empathise with airlines and show their appreciation for the responses they received from staff working hard during a difficult few days.

For this, we think that both passengers, and staff deserve the highest of praise for their conduct on social media during what was a very disappointing and disruptive time for all involved in the Gatwick Drone Crisis over the festive period.