Have you tried to contact a U.S. airline lately? Hold times are ridiculous…and seem to be getting worse. Wasn’t this what bailouts were supposed to prevent against? Instead, the longer hold times demonstrate how airlines took taxpayer money, pocketed it, and still are operating with limited staff.
Absurd Airline Hold Times Prove How Dumb Bailouts Were
At Award Expert, we’ve been on the phone a lot this week with airlines including:
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- United Airlines
The result has been a lot of frustration waiting for an agent. Like over four hours with Delta and two hours with United. Even getting up in the middle of the night to call Delta still resulted in a three-hour hold.
Granted, if I put in SkyMiles Diamond credentials or United 1K credentials, I can cut the time on hold dramatically…but we don’t abuse elite privileges by using special numbers for guests that do not hold that status.
And that means long holds…extremely long holds, just like most passengers have to face if they want to book, change, or cancel a flight.
That all got me thinking. Remember how the airline bailouts were sold last year?
Which is why we need everyone taking action to extend the aviation jobs program of the CARES Act. These jobs can be saved – keeping people employed, connected to healthcare and able to support economic recovery rather than depression. https://t.co/1PHWfD5Ttw
— Sara Nelson (@FlyingWithSara) July 9, 2020
But as View From The Wing correctly notes, airlines took the money, still reduced staff through separation programs, voluntary furloughs, and retirements, and now are not able to keep up with travel demand returning. Exhibit A: Look at all the flights Delta and American and Southwest have cancelled. Exhibit B: the long hold times.
Think about it, wasn’t CARES funding meant to keep everyone gainfully employed so the airline industry could boomerang back once a vaccine was developed and widely administered? How much collective American productivity has been lost when passengers must wait in excess of four hours on a hold to speak to an agent?
Remember to thank Congress for its regressive bailout of airlines next time you face a multi-hour hold time to change your flight.
Finally, thank you American Airlines for the call-back option. It’s beyond absurd that Delta and United do not offer a similar option. A four-hour hold is much more manageable when a callback is scheduled at a specific time and then comes on time. It always beats hold music!
I will say that all the phone calls themselves, one we got through, were generally pleasant. I had a particularly nice chat with a Delta agent who helped me change the date on a ticket…something that should have easily been doable online, but Delta’s website also leaves much to be desired.
But this is all so ridiculous. Talk about an inefficient system and this is hardly a problem that sprung up this week. Airline hold times have been bad for the last 2+ months and yet the airlines, even American, still have not found a way to get a full staff back up and running and reduce those waiting periods.
image: Delta Air Lines
I would rather wait than speak to someone I can’t understand.
Agreed, but I think that’s a false trade off.
In the meantime, a 2 minute wait when I called Etihad.
Great. Now if we could just get them to fly between DC and Milwaukee.
“Remember to thank Congress for its regressive bailout of airlines next time you face a multi-hour hold time to change your flight.” Fair enough. But we are the people who give them the power to do it. It’s far past time we pay attention to what these clowns do and to hold them accountable.
I agree, David. But that’s too much to ask.. we have a damn short memory in this country!
Delta does have a call back option. They’ve had it for years.
I know they used to have one, but I’ve not been offered it once during the pandemic. Pathetic.
They definitely still offer it but over the last few months, it has been calling back after 3+ hours only to then put you on hold for 40+ minutes once it calls you back. Completely defeats the purpose, so they may as well not have it
I’ve used it twice in the last month. They called back about 2 hours later, said I was next to be answered and within 5 minutes I had an agent.
While the analogy is not perfect, as the banks were partly to blame for the financial crisis, at least those bailouts were loans where the taxpayers was paid back in full with interest, and made the government a lot of money. Not so here, where most of the money was clearly “grants” with full expectations of keeping workers employed and no expectation of pay back.
This is a gross simplification as well, but may be helpful in understanding why banks in 2008 is a very different situation than airlines in 2020. I believe the main concern regarding banks in 2008 was with bank runs potentially causing them to become insolvent. Since they normally have sufficient assets but may lack liquidity to meet withdrawls in such cases, government loans adequately serve as a lifeline. Banks could have sold assets instead of taking loans but that would have in turn caused crashing of asset prices. That’s why the government even forced some banks to take loans even when they initially declined them. In other words, it’s not an issue of demand and supply for products/services with banks, just liquidity (demand for deposits). They still needed their workers to provide the demanded services, and banks were making revenue from those services. For airlines, however, the demand for their products and services almost completely evaporated for many months. Pure capitalism dictates that they eliminate almost all their workers and perhaps sell off some of their now idle assets. If they altruistically kept their workers on payroll on their own dime when there’s no demand and revenue for their services, they would simply go bankrupt. So, to keep the workers on payroll, the government had to give the airlines grants to pay their non-working / non-revenue-generating employees, not loans.
Sounds like us trying to get a hold of someone at the crew desk/crew accommodations.
I agree that airlines did not use the money – to keep payroll and to be able to get capacity back up quickly – as effectively as they should have. However, I am trying to imagine the scenario where they weren’t bailed-out, with inevitable bankruptcies, mass layoffs, and industry consolidation. I believe astronomically long hold times would be a secondary concern in this case, with simply finding flights and getting them affordably being a challenge.
It is the undoing of everything.
The insatiable desire for MORE, MORE, MORE.
We, the inhabitants of this planet, fail every goddamn day to understand that we are all in this together.
And freaking billionaires going to space – because… greed.
In the case of Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, those ambitions are likely a mix of enterprise and personal desire, but for Musk – his commercial efforts seem to be solely to colonize Mars and not likely for his financial benefit.
Perhaps that’s where billionaires belong.
Hating on billionaires is pure envy. You should be hating the government that enables rent seekers an monopolists. The airlines should have been allowed to file for bankruptcy. Equity gets paid more to take more risk. They should have been wiped out.
The legislation easily could have be written to say, the government will cover your actual payroll costs (up to a certain amount) 1 to 1. Instead, it said we will give you the same amount you paid on payroll last year, you just can’t force anyone off payroll. Except, feel free to cajole them to voluntarily leave and you can still keep the money. Is anybody surprised the airlines did what was legal and most beneficial to them?
I have no idea why they do not offer more live chat features. Especially if being connected to Indian call centers, being able to type your needs is much better, and you have documentation. I use it with Emirates all the time. It’s fast, efficient and if it needs to be escalated they are good with getting someone to contact me back quickly. C’mon, it’s 2021.
That’s why it pays to earn status, for situations like this.
Matthew: about 10% of all US workers are in unions, though a bigger % in aviation—probably started w/Frank Lorenzo but as a Certified Flight Instructor-Airplane and Instrument for 40 years, I defer to your base of knowledge-
do you really think your hold time to find award seats for people who are paying you to find them award seats is because of Sarah Nelson representing front line workers instead of the whatever decisions were made by the CEOs of UAL, DL, AA, ALK, and SW? You remember them doncha?
They were the ones selling Congress on bailouts. Matt: your logic is fuzzy?
Nelson is part of the bailout problem, thought certainly not the sole reason for the bailout. Her voice among the choir, however, was instrumental.
Gosh. Scott Kirby at United and Ed Bastion at Delta make about 17 million/year. I wonder if their decisions (and not a Union Rep who shows up in a lot of Matthew’s posts) has anything to do w/Matthew’s hold time—while his company is monetizing getting people award seats. Hmmm. Beats me.
You haven’t proven that there’s a causal relationship. If I remember correctly, involuntary servitude was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
I was advised of a 3 hour wait with AA couple weeks ago. I chose the callback. Got the call, and STILL had to wait 30 mins on hold to speak to an agent!
@hobo13—that’s ridiculous and horrible staffing.
But as we all know, the flight attendant’s union is not the cause of the problem. 100s of flights/day being cancelled at AA and SW because not enough planes nor pilots. No customer service cuz CEOs chose to cut back on all services and then couldn’t ramp up sufficiently when people started to travel again. I don’t understand Matthew’s frustration w/Sara Nelson but I’m guessing she beat him up every day before and after school. He needs to find another target for his angst. ALPA, the pilot’s union has 59,000 members and the mechanics union has about the same. Perhaps he could pass around his blame instead of just hating on Sara Nelson and flat out making stuff up about her. He assumes she has vastly more power than she possesses.
I agree, only 2 years ago the airline industry wanted less legislation & oversight, – so what if we loose your bags… lets get to < 20" seat pitch, it's free enterprise…… refunds this year, you must be joking…. Then when the virus arrived (by air) they suddenly became an "essential industry", expecting a socialized taxpayer bailout. Now times are better, something back to the group that helped them, the general American public (taxpayers, unless you associate with orange hair) is completely forgotten about. Only in America !
I’m shocked you don’t use your status for the calls. Sure, I wouldn’t give out my credentials to anyone. But it’s the actual elite calling. Do airlines have a policy on this? Have people lost status over it? Very curious now. For example, I sometimes book UA flights for others so on the rare occasion I need to call, it detects my phone number.