How Delta Explains Away Hours-Long Hold Times

All airlines have had long hold times, but Delta’s have generally been the longest. And their website doesn’t do a lot of the things you might need, like handling schedule changes well and erroring out with simple tasks.

I covered just how bad things had gotten, and I believe I was the first to do so, highlighting wait times for top tier Diamond members that have gotten as long as 41 hours to speak to an agent.

Dawn GIlbertson asked Delta CEO Ed Bastian about hold times during the carrier’s earnings call, and the airline no longer responding to help requests via Twitter direct message.

  • Bastian said they’ve already hired half of the two thousand staff they’re bringing on in reservations. They’re also trying to get employees who had taken early retirement to come back.

  • He acknowledges that call volumes are beyond the high point of 2019, with “handling times substantially longer” because customers “have more questions” their first time back to travel.

  • However he disputes how long hold times really are, pointing out they have “call back features in place” (which don’t always call you back when projected, and if you miss the call in the middle of the night you start over at the back of the queue). He claims that the average longest hold time for any customer group has been “in the one hour time frame” which doesn’t the experience of any customer I’ve heard from, though I’m likely dealing with a biased sample (people speak up when things are bad).

  • Pressed on the lack of options, Bastian said “Just email me, I’ll take care of it.” Delta’s email convention is generally

I’ve heard from readers who have gone to the airport to cancel flights, in order to retain flight credit, because it appeared they weren’t going to get through to Delta prior to departure and didn’t want to lose the value of their ticket.

And while things are challenging for Delta, and Delta’s CEO says ‘imagine how things would have gone if we hadn’t gotten subsidies’ (this was the argument Skuft was trying out, they clearly haven’t done what was promised in exchange for roughly $10 billion in subsidies.

The very fact that they took the money and still reduced their headcount points to the airline not remaining ‘ready to service customers when demand returned’ which was supposed to be the point of the money. Bastian, during the earnings call, even emphasized that they ‘really didn’t take on that much debt’ during the pandemic.

When you can’t get through to Delta, try ringing their Singapore reservations line. And when that doesn’t work, wait a little while and try it again.

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. Delta is the worst. As a 1K, I have never waited more than 3 minutes to speak to a UA agent, even during system meltdowns. Same with AA as an EP. Even pre-pandemic it was not unusual to wait 6 hours or more for a DL callback as a Platinum member on just a normal weekday afternoon. Such a shame that we wasted taxpayer money on these people.

  2. Gary – The call back has been broken for days now and you have no idea how long you will have to hold.

    Oh and the “new food” that was to go live by now has not. FAs are saying they are told fall at the soonest now.

  3. I’m a Delta Diamond. I e-mailed Ed directly 10 days ago. Receipt and delivery of the email electronically confirmed. I still haven’t gotten a response. So much for BAS/E’s promise to “take care of it.”

  4. I’ve long argued that Delta was an emperor with no clothes. Flashy jets and mood lighting might work well for people who occasionally fly out of secondary hub cities with little or no competition. But when push comes to shove, if operations aren’t strong, then forget about holding onto anyone’s business. Delta’s penchant for Saturday schedule changes, IT meltdowns, clueless agents (good luck convincing them that Delta partners with anyone other than Air France), third-tier international partners, and (now) 41 hour hold times means that it’ll be a long, long time before I trust them with my reservations. For all their warts, at least I know how to reach United’s Premier Desk without waiting until the end of time.

  5. It’s almost impossible to talk to a delta representative when you call the main customer service line. Even the call back option is sometimes unavailable. But if you know Spanish or Japanese or Chinese, try the foreign language line. I was able to get through in less than 20 minutes.

  6. Neither you nor any other airline blogger has established a direct causal link between the PSP payments and long wait times. One other minor detail about the issue of employment is found in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Its first paragraph reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

  7. One hour wait time for a reservations person!!!! Wonder which airline they are calling. Tried to change an outbound Delta One refundable flight online in late June for same fare and kept erroring out. Called reservations 4 times over the next week. First time estimated hold time was at over 8 hours so I hung up. Second try said 2 hour wait time I hung up after 4 1/2 hours on hold. Third time said estimated hold time 7 hours so I hung up. Fourth time said hold time in excess of 8 hours. No call back option was ever offered on any of the calls. Tried again to change outbound flight resulting in an additional $400 more than original flight and surprise surprise it worked. Wonder how long it would take to fix problem if senior executives had to go through the same process as their customers?

  8. Don’t forget that after hiring the new call center agents, they still need to be trained; therefore, this issue will probably go on for a few more months at the minimum.

    Oh, and I can attest first hand that the wait time has been well over an hour most times I’ve had the pleasure of having to call in to the Platinum Desk.

  9. Delta needs to fix its call handling problem but let’s be clear that is running a far more reliable operation than any of the other mainland US airlines -and that is confirmed by the DOT, not me.

    In the latest DOT air travel consumer report, Delta was right back at number 2 in on-time among all US airlines -which is where it has been for a long time – right behind Hawaiian.

    And for the first quarter – which clearly included the Texas winter storm and energy disaster – Delta cancelled less than 1/3 of the percentage of flights that American and United cancelled. And American, Southwest and United have all cancelled much higher percentages of flights.

    A small percentage of passengers need to contact reservations. Yes, it is a service that they offer and needs to be provided well – but Delta is doing a better job of running its operation than every other mainland US airline. and that was true even when some were talking about Delta’s “operational meltdown” which included the 4th quarter of 2020 and the 1st quarter of 2021.

    As for the bailout money, it isn’t worth near as much given that so many other Americans are getting money as well. People can figure out what is in their best financial interest and for many, working just doesn’t rank real high. We talk about airlines and the travel industry on this blog but there are plenty of businesses that are not operating anywhere near the way they want or should.

  10. @ Gary — As long as Delta can get the wait time for Diamonds down to <10 minutes, I will be happy.

  11. Wow, that didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would for Mr. Dunn (the resident DL apologist/cheerleader/propogandist) to show up…

    It is not a ‘small percentage’ of passengers needing to contact phone reservations, get real. Their IT is horrendous, and I have personally been subject to 4 hour 32 minute wait times on a Saturday when it was 3 hours until my flight’s departure (?!). Fortunately I was able to get the Twitter crew to solve it, but now it seems that option is gone. But by all means Tim, go ahead and write your tax check out directly to Delta… Even airlines with TERRIBLE outsourced call centers like Frontier answer their customer’s calls in a reasonable amount of time.

  12. Chase,
    let us know the number of passengers that are subjected to hold times at airlines.
    You can’t.
    Anecdotal evidence provides no sense of scale.

    The DOT does measure the amount of flight delays and customer complaints and baggage mishandlings. and they publish their findings.

    Delta has long performed better on the complaint metric than American or United but behind Southwest.

    If all of the hysteria that some made of Delta’s operational issues in the winter was real, it would have showed up in DOT statistics – but it was barely discernible.

    I am not excusing any poor service by any airline – but a little statistical perspective would do wonders.

    oh, and five of United’s hubs are under ATC ground delay or ground stop programs. that will have a far bigger impact on customer service than any res hold issues.

  13. @ Gary — FWIW, I have found the hold times to be much shorter than what the system initially says, at least when is says something greater than an hour. I always press three and read your blog while on hold… 🙂 The call back system never seems to work, so I do not bother with it.

  14. The callback system hasn’t worked for me in the last few calls I have had with Delta. I have now relied on the messaging feature. It is significantly longer than waiting on a call but at least I don’t have to wait on a call.

  15. Had to call them this week after a Saturday schedule change. No answer and automatic hang ups on the normal line. The messaging sends you a text back and auto texts you every so often to see if you still need help but if you miss the auto text while asleep or in the shower or whatever, it dumps you from the line. BUT- the medallion lines all still work. The silver line had a call back of 5 1/2 hours and then 7 1/2 hours but both times they called back and I got a person.

  16. I can tell you they’re super busy. Everyone knows that. Calling in still has horrible hold times – however if you go to (move to the bottom) use “message us” – they’ll help you quicker than sitting on eternal phone hold.

    I “held” less than 45 minutes today before I was able to get assistance. That’s amazing – considering over a week ago I heard their “hold” times were like 15 hours long.

    They said you can also use the “message us” feature from the FlyDelta app. I used the website.

    The agent told me there’s a ton of eCredits being used and lots of people don’t know their eCredit number(s) and that’s what is taking so long to look up for each traveler.

    They advised me that you can use up to 4 eCredits per person so I’m sure they’re trying their hardest to get everyone booked..

    Can you imagine if they have four on one call and each one was using four eCredits? That’s like issuing 16 tickets (I’d go insane if I had to do their jobs)!

    Have your eCredit numbers ready – Kindness goes a long way.

    I sincerely thanked them for their hard work getting my tickets reissued (and I’m just a “normal” Sky Miles customer).

    Thank you Delta.

  17. An hour and 41 minutes on hold (no call back option) last week, just to split one person out of a multi person reservation so that the one flight could be cancelled and the ticket be used in the future. No way to do it on the app or on the website. Delta’s IT has gone way south…or is it southeast? But, the phone agent was very friendly and competent.

  18. You think 7 hrs hold with Delta was bad? In mid-June, one day before American admitted the would have to cancel hundreds of flights through July, I called in response to a flight change they gave me. I got in the call back queue at 2:30 p.m. 12 hrs later, their robo voice said please hold. I played the game, 60 minutes later an agent came on.
    These agents work from home and sort of pick up calls per their self-appointed shift times….this agent confirmed that. Luckily, I fall back asleep easily. I played the game….since I had a trip confirmation number, I had already gone on-line and did what I needed to…decided to sleep with my cell phone at my ear to confirm the details.
    After the “news” broke that week, I bet others wisely hung up instead of waiting 24 hrs.
    My local airport is 30 min. away…I would have been able to do business in person. But so many can’t.
    A week later I had reason to be on Delta’s call back queue, which came at 2 hrs

  19. Give Ed a break. He was busy watching the All Star game he was able to get moved out of Atlanta.

  20. Lol @ 1hour. As a platinum it’s never been less than 4 hours to get through and occasionally even longer.

  21. I’ve taken exactly one flight on Delta this year, and it required me to contact customer service. With high status on multiple other airlines other than Delta, I prepared for a wait. At no time during my two hour wait was I offered a call back option – let me be super clear about that. There was no option other than waiting, endlessly, on hold, At the two hour mark, I hung up. I mean, seriously – if it’s faster to drive to the airport than to call an agent, I honestly have lost all confidence in your ability to run a company, period. If you can’t answer the phone, are you able to do maintenance? What if Boeing or Airbus calls? I will never intentionally fly Delta.

  22. Callback. That’s a good one. I’m laughing.

    After this stupid airline moved my outgoing flight to before my incoming flight landed, I spent 6 hours on hold. No callback option. Use APP, sure, it tells me to call in. After 4 hours on the message feature, FINALLY got it resolved….to the wrong flight. Lol, thank heavens I saw that before conversation ended.

    I USE to get it resolved fairly quickly thru twitter but that’s way in the rear view mirror.

    Sadly, if they hadn’t finally gotten to me via messenger, I WAS going to drive to the airport….IF there were any agents there. If a flights not leaving, they can be pretty scarce.

  23. I never get a call back option, ever!
    Delta is cheap, and doesn’t seem to invest in their basic phone system let alone new airplanes.
    I regret jumping over to Delta from United for this particular itinerary which Delta changed and I’m now forced to spend hours and cancel. Yes hours on the phone to try and cancel when they have no way of getting me to my international destination.
    Wall Street loved Delta when it was keeping all its costs to a minimum, now it’s finally paying a appropriate yet delayed price for being cheap on everything.
    United is in a good position to rise right now.

  24. 1I have a picture (from my cellphone) from Tuesday July 13-th showing that I’m on hold w/Delta (special member services line) for 2 hrs 45 mins. It actually took 3 hrs and 10 mins for them to answer. NO call back was available.
    I now realize that getting a callback in an hour on 6/21 was a fluke.
    But I must say, agents who answered both times were great, courteous, apologetic, professional and happy to help.

  25. On the 4th of July I received an alert from Delta that my flight has been cancelled on the 17th. I called and the message said it would be about a 20 minute wait. I waited about one hour and 45 minutes before a live person answered. It took less than 5 minutes to handle my request for the flight I wanted. He transferred me to another person to verify my information – only waited less than a minute.

  26. Does Gary Neff EVER write something that isn’t crying or whining?? Goodness. It must take away so much of your energy to just be so negative all the damn time. Give it a rest Gary.

  27. I frequently will write when I have something to complain about and usually not when I have had pleasant experiences. I am a Delta Platinum and all my travel is on Delta metal. As has everyone that books travel now, all of my flights are being changed prior to the departure. Sometimes 2, 3, or more times depending on how far out I have booked (currently through the end of this year). That being said, frequently I have to contact reservations because the computer when accommodating a change in equipment and/or connecting hub has screwed up my itinerary. Sometimes I have received crazy times or changed a 1 hr ground time to 8 hours or a 2 leg 10hr into a 3 leg 16hr. Every time I have called (at least twice a month) I have received the option of a call back, not occasionally, EVERY time. In April of this year I experienced an announced 7 hr hold time and I opted for a call back that I received at 2 am. I missed the call because I was asleep and the system called back approximately 2-5 minutes later. Picked up that call and was pleasantly accommodated with my requested changes. Every call I have made since, and they are consistently 1-2 @ month, I have had an announced 1-2 hr wait and the one last week was a 25 min wait. Every time I have opted for the call back and received it before the stated wait time. In fact last week after reading all this stuff online, I timed it and had an announced 25 min wait and the call back was in 19 minutes. Yes, I use the elite phone number and it always identifies me by name because I am calling from the phone number in my profile. I also get online when my itinerary changes and see what my options are so that I can suggest the changes I would like to make when I get the reservation specialist on the phone. They are always overwhelmingly accommodating and pleasant even when they have to change reward travel. So……. I can only convey what my experiences have been and hope that everyone else’s improves.

  28. I held on line for over 3 hours on July 16 to preserve my points when I had to make a flight change. The response when I called was wait time would be less than 2 hours. Today I plan on driving to the Phoenix airport to address the issue. Ed Bastian is either a liar or is out of touch with his operations reality.

  29. I have now been waiting for 4 hours and 30 minutes and counting. The site doesn’t work, the call center doesn’t work, and the chat doesn’t work.
    There is a lot of grace that can be given over COVID but this is like a restaurant running out of food; incompetent. I don’t know if I will get a response to cancel my ticket before the flight leaves and I am not sure it’s even worth the time waiting. Delta has definitely hit bottom in this and many areas.

  30. Yesterday I called Delta to see if I could make a change on an international flight. I was automatically told I would be called back in 3 hours and 39 minutes!! I waited all day and was finally called back after 10 hours!!!!! Are you kidding me? Why don’t they hire more people to answer these phone calls? Very disappointed about this airline and its customer service.

  31. Sun Country is a joke too, but that’s a small airline where customer service has been declining for a long time. As for Delta, my wife and I planned to take a flight with them but needed to speak to an agent about a related issue. After 3 hours we gave up and booked with American. When Delta realizes that it’s losing real money from such instances times who knows how many thousands it might become efficient again.

  32. Ok- long-time reader and Delta 360 customer here. I have been complaining about long wait times on Delta’s 360 desk for several months now, as they “implement a new phone system”. Great news, over the last few weeks, the “new” Delta phone system no longer recognizes me, my Skymiles number nor my name as an 360 Skymiles member. TODAY- I left word for a 360 supervisor to return my call. Writing Ed Bastion will occur tomorrow. Posting on social media is my last resort as I am exhausted. Well, that and switching to another US Domestic airline who will value my business with better customer service.

  33. @Michael Lashendock I am not as fortunate as you to be a 360 customer but I am a Platinum Medallion and as I stated in my July 15th comments above, I have not experienced the issues you describe. I called again three weeks ago, the system did recognize me and suggested a call back in 20 minutes. The call back came in 7 minutes, I had a great conversation with Karen in Tampa (Most of the Delta Reps are working from home) and all my issues were addressed. Could it be that you were using a phone that was not in your profile? Good luck, I am sure they will address a 360 customer’s issues long before me!

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