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Friendly skies: How DCA’s social media accounts seek to keep air travel fun

Reagan National and Dulles International’s Digital Marketing Specialist Amanda Ohbayashi (courtesy of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority)

(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) When Amanda Ohbayashi creates a social media post for Reagan National Airport, she’s doing more than just sharing information.

Her goal as DCA’s sole social media curator is to create content on X, formerly Twitter, and Instagram that makes people stop and engage with what they are watching or reading.

If you keep up with DCA on social media or follow people who do, you may have noticed more playful and funny posts recently, from satirical travel experiences to witty short clips and pop culture references.

And while these posts are designed to be fun, Ohbayashi points out that they also play a crucial role in educating travelers.

“We have fun sometimes, certainly, but also because of the engagement that these fun posts get, it lifts up our posts that really need to be seen because there is a major incident,” Ohbayashi told ARLnow. “That algorithm has already helped us out. So it really goes hand in hand.”

Take, for example, a meme DCA posted this summer about accidentally going to DCA when a flight is out of Dulles. The post struck a chord with with social media users, garnering some 54,000 likes on Instagram and around 75,000 views on X — thousands more interactions than either account usually sees.

While the meme is intended to be witty and entertaining, it also serves the practical purpose of reminding flyers to double-check their departure airport, says Ohbayashi.

“People thought that was so funny, and it related to a real problem that we have,” she said.

Even before she came on board with DCA’s three-person digital media team in 2018, Ohbayashi, who also co-hosts the airport’s podcast “The Capital Runway,” says she noticed a lot of airports around the country were leaning into humor to help lighten the stress of travel.

But everything really shifted gears when the pandemic hit.

“I would say a lot of the memes started probably during the pandemic… we had to fill some space. We wanted to keep things light-hearted and keep people interested even though they weren’t traveling,” Ohbayashi said.

Although humorous and carefree posts are great for increasing engagement, Ohbayashi also has a strategy for alternating between whimsical and serious content.

“We definitely want to maintain that balance because there are important messages that need to go out, whether it’s traffic incidents or runway updates or weather alerts,” she said.

When she has to post about something like snow, Ohbayashi says she still aims to soften the blow of the bad news with a positive spin.

“We do try to sprinkle in some fun content with snow team and featuring what they’re doing because they don’t really get featured that often,” she said.

Ohbayashi recognizes the goal of DCA’s social media is to provide essential information to travelers but, especially around the holidays, she views her posts as a way to remind travelers to stay positive.

“I always try to remind people to be kind because we’re all trying to get somewhere, and people are stressed in the airport,” she said. “The people who are working in the airport are also stressed, so just be kind, and we’ll get there, and it’ll be okay.”

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