If you call a U.S. airline expect to wait on hold. And depending on what’s happening that day, the wait can be hours. When you need help the most, because your flight was cancelled or you’re going to miss a connection, that’s when the hold times are likely to be longest – because everyone else probably needs help at the same time for the same reason.
Things get a little bit better if you have elite status with an airline and your calls get prioritized, but sometimes only a little bit better. At times last year holds for Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Diamond members could stretch over 40 hours. Delta hold times have been generally worse than at other airlines (here’s a workaround that still works).
American Airlines call center representatives have been rebelling against mandatory overtimesince May 2021. And an employee asked outgoing CEO Doug Parker about whether there’s any end in sight at a meeting after the carrier’s earnings call on Thursday, a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing.
According to Parker, “call volumes are at unprecedented highs” due to flight cancellations stemming from Omicron “at levels we’ve never seen.” He says that “the number of res agents we have for a normal period of this much travel is more than enough, but we just can’t ever really get fully caught up.”
He continued, “we certainly have looked out a couple of times, looked out into the future, and said we have enough res agents now to deal with where and certainly where we’re expected to be, only to be surprised by a new thing.”
Julie Rath, American’s Vice President, Customer Experience & Reservations at American Airlines, added
- American Airlines reservations is 20% above 2019 call volumes
- 450 reservations agents moved over to work in airports
- They’ve hired 845 new reservations agents this month, but that’s not helpful right away becauese they’ll be in training during the first quarter
- They’ve opened up Miami as a base for home-based reservations growth (before they pandemic they were looking to eliminate home-based reservations agents altogether)
The good news is that call volumes should subside when Covid abates and travel plans are less up in the air, though some incremental amount of change volume may be the result of the industry-wide elimination of most change fees outside of basic economy fares. When it’s cheaper to make changes you get more changes, and more call volume.
Customers needing to reach American Airlines when wait times are long (and when twitter isn’t responsive, American’s twitter team is more helpful than most for getting things done) should consider dialing the UK or Australia reservations line. These calls centers don’t get busy as a result of bad weather in the U.S. generally.