The Associated Press reports that discount airlines – which are already outflanking the big network carriers in customer service and low fares – appear to be extending their advantage to social media.

“The discounters often respond with quick feedback to travelers’ concerns on social networking sites, while traditional network carriers peddle last-minute fare deals but seem slow to embrace Twitter and Facebook to beef up customer service.

Customers crave good service and reward airlines that provide it.

A survey cited in a July report by Forrester Research showed that 68 percent of U.S. online leisure travelers say they’d be willing to recommend carriers to family and friends if the company made them feel like a valued customer.

That’s a tantalizing incentive for airlines to transform customer service from the dull telephone and e-mail route into the online networking channel — where every customer can speak his mind to the masses — at a time when the weak economy has caused their revenue to plummet.”

The article notes that JetBlue has 10 employees actively involved with social networking and Southwest Airlines has seven.  Meanwhile, the bigger carriers take a different approach.

“They appear more comfortable hawking fare sales and providing weather updates and information about new routes and flight delays. For example, American earlier this year announced a 5 percent discount sale through its Facebook page.

American thinks that social media shouldn’t be a replacement for existing customer service in which representatives respond to calls and e-mails from customers.

US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr says that while Twitter and Facebook are hot topics right now, the carrier doesn’t believe in ‘just jumping on the bandwagon.’”

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Lufthansa said today that it will offer passengers in-flight Internet and cellphone connections. The service, known as FlyNet, will be available starting in mid-2010. The airline said it hopes to equip a major part of its long-haul planes in the service’s first year, and eventually the entire long-haul fleet.
  • A man wanted by the FBI for the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 281 has surrendered to American police after more than 40 years living as a fugitive in Cuba.  Luis Armando Peña Soltren, 66, arrived at JFK Airport in New York on a flight from Havana after making arrangements with the authorities for his return to the US.  Soltren, who was one of the FBI’s longest wanted fugitives, told authorities that he wanted to come home and face his fate because he missed his family.
  • Here’s a head-scratcher:  Right now, it’s about $300 cheaper to fly from Seattle or Portland to Honolulu than from L.A. — and from Honolulu to Las Vegas than to L.A.
  • An Oregon teen talked his way onto an airplane bound for Chicago last weekend, revealing a little-known hole in airport security.  Kids don’t have to show photo ID.