In November British Airways closed their Jacksonville-based US call center, news that was originally reported in March.
Initially the only part of that news that made me sad was that 280 people would be losing their jobs. I never really cared for their US call center, given that the agents weren’t especially friendly for the most part, and the call center was open for just 12.5 hours per day.
Well, often you don’t appreciate what you had till it’s gone, because the current British Airways call center situation is just horrible. Quite possibly the worst of any airline I’ve dealt with (and that includes the Alitalia call center, which is usually answered with “give me your phone number and I will call you back later”).
I figured the call center would be 24 hours per day and outsourced, meaning the agents would at least be friendly. Nope, instead US calls are now being routed to the UK.
The only good news is that British Airways now lets you phone call centers in other countries when yours is closed. Previously they had both restrictive hours and only let you speak to the Executive Club call center for the country in which your account was registered.
British Airways call center hold times
One of the most common Tweets and email comments I get from people is how long the British Airways call center hold times are. Seriously, has anyone without status gotten through to their call center with less than an hour wait? I don’t know of any other call center that consistently has such long hold times. It’s unbelievable.
British Airways “sales” department vs. “existing reservations” department
In my experience with just about every other airline an award reservations agent can help you with both a new and existing reservation. British Airways, however, has the strictest and most arbitrary restriction when it comes to who can help you with a booking.
They have both an Avios “sales” department, whereby the agent can help you with new bookings, and then a different set of agents that can help you with existing bookings.
The problem is that if you need to be transferred between the two (because I often call to make a new booking and change an existing one), you first have to wait over an hour on hold for the first agent, and then the agents that help with existing reservations seem to have even longer hold times.
My recent frustration with the British Airways call center
Yes, back in December I had a massive problem with the British Airways call center over something that should have taken two minutes.
I had a repeat of that yesterday, except over something even sillier — it took me three hours to get a British Airways Avios ticket on Alaska booked properly.
I was trying to redeem British Airways Avios for two friends of mine on Alaska Airlines. Alaska is one of the few Executive Club partners which you can’t book through the website.
I issued the ticket, and as soon as I got off the phone I noticed they misspelled one of their names. Now, admittedly I should have asked the agent to spell back the name before issuing the ticket, but it is a fairly common name and I spelled it phonetically. For example, if the last name were “Smith,” the agent spelled it “Omith.”
Now, this shouldn’t be a big deal for two reasons:
- I’m British Airways Gold so can redeposit and rebook awards for free
- There’s a special British Airways Gold phone number, and the hold time there is usually only a few minutes… at least if you’re trying to make a new reservation
The added issue is that I misplaced the confirmation number. Again, shame on me, but if I called any other airline on earth, they could retrieve it within 30 seconds.
So I called up British Airways. When asked if I wanted help with a new reservation or if I wanted to “change or cancel” an existing reservation, I selected the former. I really just wanted the confirmation number so that I could cancel the ticket online and start over, since I knew that would be faster.
Since I dialed the Gold Line the agent picked up within a few minutes, though when I explained I needed a confirmation number for a booking I had just made, he transferred me to the agents that help with existing bookings. After waiting on hold for 45 minutes I hung up.
I mean, I didn’t even want to change or cancel an existing booking, but rather I just wanted the confirmation number for a new booking I had just made, where they hadn’t sent me the email confirmation (as they’re supposed to).
So I called back, figuring I could get an agent that actually wanted to be helpful. The next agent once again insisted that I needed to be transferred, except this time I pushed back a little bit. I explained that I didn’t want to “change or cancel an existing booking,” which is the line with the never ending hold time that he wanted to connect me to. Instead I just wanted the confirmation number for a reservation I had made, for which the agent accidentally didn’t send me an email confirmation.
He insisted he didn’t “have the resources to do that.” I mean, how poorly is British Airways empowering their agents so that they don’t have the “resources” to pull up a confirmation number for an award reservation they just made?
I explained that I had just been on hold for 45 minutes and no one had picked up, and that I literally just needed a confirmation number for a booking that I had just made. Again, he refused to help.
So I asked to speak to a supervisor, because I did want to share some feedback:
- It’s ridiculous that for the Gold Line the hold is just a few minutes for making a new booking, while it’s well over an hour for help with an existing booking.
- Clearly the agents aren’t empowered properly if they can’t pull up a reservation for a booking they just made. That shouldn’t require being transferred to a different department.
He put me on hold for about five minutes to “see if a supervisor would be willing to talk to [me].” After five minutes he came back and said “the supervisor is not willing to take over the call.” Seriously?!
So I had him transfer me to the department for existing bookings. He promised to put me in “the priority queue,” but that wait still took over an hour. No joke, I put the phone on loudspeaker, showered, shaved, went to Starbucks, and when I got back I was still on hold.
When the agent picked up she was able to quickly retrieve my confirmation number. Since I had waited on hold for so long I figured I’d have her go ahead and fix the name as well, which required canceling the booking and then making a new reservation.
She canceled the reservation, but then had to transfer me over to the department for new reservations to issue the ticket again.
You’ve gotta be freaking kidding me.
Unlike the transfer over to the existing reservations department, she promised she’d give the agent all the travel information so that I’d just have to give the new agent the credit card for the taxes.
After a brief hold I had a new agent on the phone that was ready to take down my credit card information, saying that the agent had given her the exact flights.
Once she completed the reservation I went onto ba.com to look at the flights, only to find that she booked them on a (completely) wrong date…
British Airways, the hold times at your call center are horrible.
I thought your hold times sucked with the US call center back when they were consistently 20+ minutes. Now they’re consistently well over an hour. If you’re going to close a call center, maybe you should consider what you plan on doing with all of those calls.
And the lack of versatility when it comes to the agents is just astonishing.
Every other airline (including those that have outsourced call centers) seem to have no problem assisting with a new or existing reservation. Clearly either British Airways is telling their agents to lie or not empowering them properly… not sure which would be worse.
Anyone else dislike the British Airways call center as much as I do?
I think it’s time for a British Airways call center support group, much like we have for Turkish Airlines hold music.