Six Tricks to Get Airline Customer Service When Phone Waits Are Long and Airlines Melt Down

Wendy Perrin shares very good advice similar that what I’ve offered here in the past.

When snowstorms hit, or operations melt down for other reasons, it can be tough to get help. There are just too many people chasing too few agents.

A year ago during an ice storm in Dallas American Airlines’ operations were so impacted (yes, that’s a word) that the hold time for a 100,000 mile flyer was frequently four hours.

But there’s no reason to wait on the phone that long even though you do need help.

The most frustrating thing for me about long telephone hold times is that I can find myself flights that are still operating, and with availability (using Expert Flyer) but by the time an agent gets around to the call that space is likely already gone. You need help now.

  1. Call a non-US call canter. If your airline has call centers elsewhere in the world, odds on those aren’t affected by the same weather-related cancellations. There’s a time-zone difference, and they may not be 24 hours, but you may be able to get right through. Use Skype or similar service to avoid long distance charges.

  2. Use and have the airline call you back when it’s your turn. You don’t talk to the airline faster, but you don’t have to wait on hold wasting your time and attention and draining you phone battery.

  3. Opt to speak to an agent in another language. The queue for those agents may be shorter. My Spanish isn’t very good.

  4. Tweet your airline. Those agents are no doubt busy too, but when things turn south social media can often help.

  5. Go to the airport. Get help in person. The lines in the terminal may be long but there are kiosks to use, too.

  6. Go to the club. Agents there are going to be best-positioned to help with most airlines, the lines will be shorter, and the waits more comfortable. If you don’t otherwise have access, a day pass (often ~ $50) can be worth it.

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. Although people say it doesn’t work, I’ve never had an issue calling the AA EXP line at 800-843-6200. Don’t enter your AA number and you typically get connected within 60 seconds. Worst case it kicks you into the regular queue (although that hasn’t happened to me).

  2. RE: Call a non-US call canter.
    In this day and age shouldn’t the airlines be routing these calls to other centers automatically?

    It’s sad that the customer can be smart enough to call another center, but the airlines are not routing some subset of calls to those under utilized centers.

  3. Gary, please please please avoid obvious clickbait titles. I have loved your content for years, but his is like watching your girlfriend gradually start dressing like a prostitute. I promise we will read your articles even if their titles respect our intelligence.

  4. @nsx at Flyertalk … I saw your comment about this post over on Flyertalk and came here looking to see what the fuss was.

    This post title accurately reflects the content, what’s your beef?

    Do you see any irony in complaining about ‘click bait’ while using your comments to stir the pot over in Flyertalk’s blog bashing cess pool?

    Your analysis in any case is faulty, attractive titles draw more traffic and passive titles to. That’s why we see them.

    The misogyny of your example is troubling.


  5. i think the issue here is calling these “tricks”, sort of like the post where gary said he “hacked” his way into the lounge in alabama by… basically taking advantage of their clearly posted offer.

    i would say these are six TIPS to follow when airlines melt down.

    a little more attention to content (especially proofreading) would be welcome. sometimes these posts feel a bit rushed.

  6. @Julie, I suppose I am just more attuned to bloggers’ six tricks to get you to click. I believe that using those tricks insults my intelligence. Please take a few minutes to learn more about this on the two FlyerTalk threads “Five Types of Blog Posts Not To Click On” and “Boycott click-bait blog entries”, which I won’t bother linking since I don’t make a penny on anyone’s clicks.

    I’m nonplussed at your assertion that not wanting the woman you love to dress indecently is mysogynistic. I guess I’ll have to remain puzzled on that one. I suppose that in a perfect world onlookers wouldn’t make inferences about anyone based on clothing, but that world can never be. Sex workers NEED to use their clothing for the same reason that stores need to have signs outside. Beyond that, fashion in clothing and makeup as a means to express one’s identity is older than recorded human history.

    My point was that I really, really like what Gary has to say on almost everything. I want to feel good about clicking, not guilty that I am supporting a practice (clickbait titling) that I abhor.

  7. Or just use the website/app. When the storm his the Northeast last week I got an email and text from United that brought me to a page where I could choose any flight with available seats (on an award ticket, no less). Took me all of 45 seconds to get rebooked.

  8. @nsx at flyertalk,

    Get a God Damn life, will ya? This politically correct button pushing bullshit is just complete nonsense.

    You wrote, “I really, really like what Gary has to say on almost everything. I want to feel good about clicking, not guilty that I am supporting a practice (clickbait titling) that I abhor.”

    Buddy, who gives a shit. Just because your anus hurts one way, but not the other is just a bundle of crap. Thanks.


  9. I’m with Ed on this one. NSX is a wanker. “…supporting a practice (clickbait titling) that I abhor.” Jesus Christ, could you be anymore full of yourself?

  10. What Kris said, during IRROPS the United app will let you rebook yourself on any available flight (even allowing a choice of airports and cities), check you in, and if a better flight opens up, cancel the check in and put you on the new flight. I’m not a United flyer, but I was suitably impressed.

    Heck, the Delta app will let you switch flights the day of (for free) even for <1h delays.

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