As a young kid, I already had a fascination with air travel. When you’re 11 years old, it’s hard to get your parents to let you fly around the world on your own. I also didn’t have much more than a weekly allowance of $20 at that age. Therefore, my best outlets were to pester the local travel agent in our town (she was not fond of this, at all!) or to dial up airline customer service and chat up with a friendly phone reservation agent. I particularly liked to call Southwest (our family flew them regularly) or Northwest Airlines as I could usually find someone to look up complex, dream itineraries for me and chat up with me for an hour.
Whether they realized I was an 11 year old boy or a middle-aged woman (my voice had yet to deepen), that was a different time for airlines and their phone customer service. Of course with all the advancements in the internet, smartphones, and apps, far fewer people are contacting phone customer service unless they absolutely must. For those of us who are addicted to miles and award bookings, contacting an airline’s phone customer service is often required for complex bookings, partner award bookings, and ticket changes. Sometimes you can talk your way into waived fees with a few kind words over the phone. It’s hard to sweet talk an iPhone app into waiving change fees. But even though phone customer service departments for airlines have shrunk with demand and the quality of their service is quite mixed, some airlines have set a standard for excellent phone customer service, even in 2014.
Here’s a list of my favorites and not so favorite airlines when it comes to customer service via telephone. I’ve only included the airlines that I’ve had experience with over the phone:
It’s hard to find too many people out there that have disdain for Alaska Airlines. The hold times are nearly always short and their reps are trained to be extremely courteous and knowledgeable. They always thank me for being an elite flyer and I’ve never had a bad experience by phone.
Southwest would have held the top sport for me a few years ago but as Southwest has grown, their phone service has changed. They used to answer the phone almost immediately but now there’s a long menu to sit through. Still, their reservation agents are friendly and helpful and you can’t beat the no-change-fee policy!
Short hold times, those polite British accents, and knowledgeable reps. What’s there not to like? European carriers aren’t keen on advanced seat assignments but a friendly phone call and elite status with a OneWorld carrier or Alaska will plop you into preferred seats easily.
The Swiss do everything so efficiently and the phone reps at Swiss International are no exception. I easily obtained advanced seat assignments without status at the time, even seats that are considered preferred for Miles & More members. Generally short wait times are a plus as well!
Just a few years ago, I would have stuck American well at the bottom of this list. Their reps were cranky and looked for any way to screw the average traveler. Well, a few things seemed to have changed at American whether it’s due to reputation or their merger with US Airways. The hold times vary but the reps are more likely to be helpful than not. Sometimes I have to remind them of their own policies but they tend to be flexible to work with with the right attitude. Their “Remember Me” phone feature is pretty neat too!
I contemplated sticking United in the Losers
category but I have had them help me out in a pinch many times so I just can’t bring myself to it. Their hold times are one of the worst in the business and don’t bother calling the general line during peak hours. Their elite status line answers nearly right away but I’ve had a few cranky reps on the elite line lately. The main reason I’m not putting them lower on the list simply because I’ve encounters some great United reps and they have waived strict fees for me more than once.
While I find Delta’s in flight service, especially in First Class, to be among the best, I don’t think much of their telephone service folks. The hold times aren’t terrible but I haven’t had much luck in regards to the friendliness of their phone reps. I’m always seeing blog comments about Delta’s IT and website woes and I’ve had to call in a few times for assistance with reservations. However, I don’t usually get much help on the other and and this usually leaves me feeling apprehensive about calling and asking for assistance.
Talk about ridiculous wait times! About equal to United in atrocious wait times (is this a Star Alliance habit?), Air Canada’s reps are about as boring as drywall. By the time I get to a rep, I’m just ready to get what I need and get off the phone.
Boy, do I regret the day I even joined Club Premier! The blogs are pretty quiet about this sleepy carrier but I found out the hard way why not many people are keen on Aeromexico. Their phone reps appear to be trained to be as unhelpful as possible. Every rep I’ve spoken with thinks of every excuse in the book to not help you with award bookings and forget about ever using their companion tickets! One day I will find a way to ditch these Club Premier kilometers I’m stuck with and bid goodbye to Aeromexico!