Cut Your Airline Telephone Hold Time With This One Weird Trick

Southwest, Delta and United telephone customer service has been compared to ringing up the IRS.

During irregular operations, bad weather events, calling an airline is much worse than usual – because everyone else is calling too. I’m used to hearing that “we’re experiencing unusually high call volumes” all the time as an excuse for not investing in customer service. It’s actually true during storms or other outages.

I’ve written for years though about dialing foreign call centers for airlines. In the U.S. weather may be bad, airlines cancelling flights, and customers are ringing up the airlines — in the U.S. Often foreign call center wait times are completely unaffected.

When Delta cancelled a friend’s flight three days in a row during their operational meltdown last spring even the twitter team was taking a full day to respond. The telephone wait time was several hours long. But ringing up Delta in Singapore took no time at all.

Foreign call centers can be useful even when wait times aren’t unusually long. I call American’s Australia reservations center which rings to Fiji to book Etihad premium cabin awards (although during off hours it rolls over to Trinidad, not as helpful, so I ring their UK number).

British Airways hold times are interminable. Their website is pretty good for booking simple awards, but if you’re looking for connecting flights on partner airlines options don’t always come up. Or routes with several flights a day don’t show all options.

Angelina Travels says she faced an hour and 40 minute hold time calling BA. I’ve never experienced one that bad, though 20-30 minutes hasn’t been uncommon.

She points out, though, that the Mexico call center is actually based in San Jose, so agents speak English. She rang them at 408-352-9323 and the wait time was 11 minutes.

When dialing foreign call centers I’ll usually Skype though there are plenty of reasonable options for cheap international dialing.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I react with disgust to any email with “one weird trick” in the subject line. Please refrain from using that phrase!

  2. Thank you for the reminder to use foreign airline call centers during irrops. I’ve updated my contacts list with the applicable numbers…hoping I don’t need to use them any time soon 🙂

  3. Be careful with this.

    Delta in the UK is actually Air France KLM. The one time I called them about a schedule change they completely converted my ticket into an AF one (even though it was purchased on It took Delta in the US an hour to convert it back, and because I was calling from the UK via Skype I had to stay in hold the entire time

  4. Totally agreed with Kerry. Please also avoid partial strings:
    “You won’t believe what happened next.”
    “The shocking truth behind”
    “It will have you in tears.”
    “See where they are now!”

    Or any generalized form of:
    “You won’t believe how these 10 [subject]. Number 9 is a killer!”

  5. Again already! And for the millionth time! Why do the same people huffing about the Nat Enquirer style headlines read the article belonging to the headlines that ring of carnival barkers?
    Find out NOW before it’s deleted forever!

  6. To those who have concerns about common phrases, etc. that you choose to use: Simple Words of Wisdom: “Lighten Up. Life Is Too Short”

  7. Gary can you provide us with a complete list of which overseas call centers you recommend most for each particular airline?

    I.e. “for British airways try their Spanish call center which can be reached at xxxxxxxxxx, for UA try their Australian call center at xxxxxxxxxx, etc”

  8. Agree with Kerry. “One weird trick,” “hack,” and “top ten ways to” are the most overused and inane phrases in what passes for journalism today. Can you give them a pass Gary?

    But a great article, overlooking the headline!

  9. II would love it if you would provide a list of list of overseas call centers and their numbers also Gary.
    That would be most kind of you have a very big help to me and I think probably other people as well. Thanks

  10. While out of the US, I find that many of the local country airline call centers may have limited hours, so whittle your list of contact numbers down to a few that operate 24/7, or be sure to call during their office hours.

    During my RTW last year, it was helpful to call Europe offices while nighttime in SE Asia and the Pacific.

    Not everyone operates 24/7.

  11. ps. I can also confirm that leaving your # with delta and hanging up is faster than holding. Just got my call-back from Delta at 10:10AM, about 2 hours after choosing this option. That’s shorter than any hold time I’ve encountered from them in the past few months.

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