Travel is returning, but the road back to normal will be a bumpy one.
We’ve already told you about rental car shortages, and airlines cancelling flights that don’t sell well enough, forcing passengers to accept alternate itineraries. Now another big issue is confronting travelers: the epic wait time before you can get an airline representative on the phone.
I learned about the problem from my friend Susan, who posted on Facebook that she’d had to wait 4 hours and 18 minutes to talk with a Delta Airlines representative. A friend of hers responded that she’d waited 10 hours two days ago to get a human on the phone there! And when I called Delta today, to see how bad it would be, I was given an estimated call back time of 5 hours and 34 minutes. Ouch.
The situation seems to be better at American Airlines and Southwest Airlines—but it still ain’t pretty. With both of them, the wait was an hour and a half. JetBlue clocked in at 45 minutes. Surprisingly, United Airlines, which hasn’t been known for customer service during this pandemic, got back to me in a reasonable 15 minutes.
With carriers ramping back up to meet demand, these snafus aren’t surprising. But they are frustrating. If you need to talk with an airline representative, here are my tips, born from long experience, to make the process a bit less maddening.
Call at the Right Time: Earlier is better, so calling at 7am rather than 10am could cut your wait time down significantly. Mondays are often the day people start their checklist of tasks to be done, and therefore also the day with the longest wait times.
Don’t Dance to the Robot Voice’s Tune: By tapping “0” insistently, or plaintively repeating the words “human” or “operator”, you can usually skip the long-winded interrogation that the computer voice is trained to put you through.
Go for the Spanish Language Operator: This is a sneaky tip, but you don’t have to be fluent in espanol to do it: the operators of all of the major airlines are bilingual. And because fewer people go for the Spanish-language option, the waits are usually mucho shorter.
Use the Texting Option: Or get your teenager to text for you. When I called around today, Delta, United, and JetBlue all would have texted immediately with me, which would have been a time-saver.
Get a Call Back: Like texting, call backs are being almost universally offerred nowadays. While this option won’t allow you to speak with an operator any sooner, at least you won’t have to undergo the aural water torture of listening to muzac, and chirpy announcements, over and over and over.
Try Get Human: This free website will eliminate a few steps of the process. All you do is input which airline you’re trying to call, your callback number, and a short sentence or two about why you’re calling. It gives that info to the airline, and has them call you back. I’d hoped Get Human would also somehow magically cut down on the wait time, but instead I ended up getting two calls back from Delta….the first 5 hours and 34 minutes after my first call, on the nose. The other, spurred by most posting with Get Human, a few minutes later.