Hang up, call back. The four most important words in travel. For some, perhaps, the four most important words in life.
I know this lesson. I share this lesson. But I don’t always practice it. And I know better.
Call center agents vary tremendously in quality. The airline computer systems they are working with vary tremendously in quality.
When things aren’t going smoothly — when they are taking longer than they should, when an agent isn’t understanding your request, when they are not coming back with the correct answers right away, hang up and call back.
Sometimes it’s tempting to ignore the rule. You’ve been on hold for awhile, you don’t want to do it again. Surely your request is straightforward and for something you’re entitled to. It has to be better just to keep working with the agent you’re talking to, right?
US Airways agents don’t know geography. Delta agents don’t know who their partners are. United’s outsourced agents are working with computer systems that don’t work — but they’ve been told the computer is always right — so they simply don’t know what to do and will make up rules and excuses. And it will take a very long time for them to do it.
EVA Airways has amazing award availability. For an early January return from Asia to the US it’s the best and most generous option for sure. And United’s award price for the one-way in business is reasonable (60,000 miles and no fuel surcharges). But I couldn’t book the award at united.com.
I spoke to an outsourced general reservations line agent. Many of them are good, or at least they usually do exactly what they’re asked without push back. I often like working with international call center agents.
But the one this morning… he was agreeable. He took down the specific flights I wanted. He was going to put together the itinerary.
I should have bailed on the call right away. The first sign of trouble was that I had to repeat each flight a second time. I had to give him the airline code for EVA Airways (BR). And he needed to be on hold while constructing the itinerary.
But he was so nice, I let it ride.
He came back and needed to repeat the first flight, he wasn’t sure he grabbed the right one. And back on hold he went. But the other flight segments are already put together, right? So I let it ride.
Then he returned and said that the itinerary wouldn’t work because of a misconnect in the US, the flight from Taipei to the US arrived the next day and wouldn’t connect to the domestic segment.
Here I blame United’s computers, it says stuff like that incorrectly all the time. They’re crossing the international date line, the flight arrives in the U.S. on the same day, even though the arrival time is earlier than the departure time. Ok, back on hold.
After another 10 minutes he comes back and says that the award will not price. The reason? United awards have to have a United flights as the first segment.
At this point, again, I should have hung up the phone. But I had been on for a long time, about 35 minutes. And the itinerary was set up. So when he went to get a supervisor to price it, I stuck with it. This was a mistake.
- No matter how long you have been on the phone, that’s just a sunk cost, and in and of itself shouldn’t affect the decision to hang up and call back.
- You aren’t almost there, at the 5 yard long, the rest of the call will take longer than you think. Because the best indicator of a reservations agent’s future performance is their past performance.
These rules held true, and I didn’t follow them. Twenty minutes later I was connected to an agent. A different agent answered. In Japanese. Who had no information on their screen about the call.
After 57 minutes on the phone I was starting from scratch. And I had other things to do, so I returned to it later in the day. I called back, got an awesome agent who had the whole thing set up in less than 4 minutes. The only thing that kept the call going was his investigating whether it was possible for them to issue the EVA Airways right away (they used to have to put them on a 24 hour hold and required a call back to ticket). He took payment details and queued it right away.
57 minutes. And I should know better.