My Useless 30 Minute Airline Phone Call

It’s not often I get on the phone with airlines nowadays to deal with my own reservations. Technology is getting better, which means there are more website self service options… for the most part.

A few days ago I redeposited an award ticket between Los Angeles and New York, in American’s A321 first class. My plans had changed, so I no longer had a need to take the flight. Only the miles never redeposited, which in my experience should be an instant process for tickets on American’s own flights.

American-A321

So this morning — several days later — I decided to call up American to follow up about the redeposit. I called the Executive Platinum desk, and the agent said she’d have to get me over to AAdvantage customer service.

I got connected to an agent who sounded competent, though after giving her my AAdvantage number she said “oh you’re an Executive Platinum, would you like me to get you to an Executive Platinum AAdvantage agent?” I said “if you could help me that would be great.” A second later I got transferred over to an Executive Platinum agent. Alrighty then!

By the time I talked to the third agent I figured it would at least be a speedy process. I explained the situation, and I heard her typing in the background.

After about five minutes I said “is there a problem?” She mumbled something I couldn’t at all understand.

I figured I’d let her do her thing. Five minutes later I followed up again — “is the problem that you’re not able to find the reservation, is the problem with the redeposit itself, or…?”

She mumbled something again. Which I found so odd. It was as if she was speaking another language… maybe she was?

I let her do her thing, and a few minutes later followed up yet again. She responded again with mumbles.

Now in general:

  • If I get a bad agent I hang up and call again, though this agent just left me so puzzled that I didn’t know what to do. She wasn’t actively rude and wasn’t actively unhelpful, but she just wasn’t communicating at all. And frankly I was sort of curious how it would end, so couldn’t bring myself to actually hang up.
  • I was very tempted to say “sorry, I don’t know what you’re saying… can you speak in a way I can understand please, and tell me what the situation is?” But I didn’t want to be rude, so I didn’t.

Nearly 27 minutes into the phone call (I know this because I took a screenshot of my Google Voice at this point) I said “you see the transaction in my account where the miles were debited, right?”

AA-Phone-Call

“No…”

“Just to clarify, are you looking at the correct AAdvantage account?

“Your AAdvantage number is ______, right?”

“Ummm… nope, that’s not my account.”

So I gave her my correct account information. All of which is very odd, since I entered my AAdvantage number during the phone prompt, and the previous (non-Executive Platinum) AAdvantage agent confirmed all my account details.

After looking at my account details she said “oh… well the miles should be redeposited automatically.”

“Is there no way you can manually redeposit them, since it has been several days? For me they’ve never redeposited if it doesn’t happen within a few days.”

“They will redeposit, don’t worry.”

At the end I said “well, thanks for your help… I just wish it hadn’t taken 30 minutes to get to this point.”

Bottom line

This was certainly an extreme case, though there’s no denying that the quality of the Executive Platinum desk has slipped considerably over the past several years, after the Tucson call center closed. Access to the Executive Platinum desk used to be one of the best perks of the status, though aside from shorter wait times, I’m not sure I see much advantage to it anymore.

Like I said, admittedly this was an extreme incident, though the fact that it took over 25 minutes for the agent to even realize she was looking at the wrong account blows my mind.

To fellow American Executive Platinum members, what has been your experience with their phone service lately?

Comments

  1. The phone service for American has gone downhill. It’s awful and talking to an agent right now is something I’ve been dreading lately. They all some Sound super rude and Just careless to help you. If I I could do some of the stuff I call them for on my own that would be glorious but I can’t. They were several times yesterday where I needed help with my flight and the agent was so rude that if I wasn’t in a rush I would have loved hanging up and try calling again. Not sure what’s happening with this agents. I miss the days where I would greeted by name; with a cheerful tone and an agent willing to help at ease.

  2. hrm. I’ve always just chalked it up to getting ex-US folks who were confused by AA’s system. In fact, I got misty-eyed the other day, explaining that KA is, in fact, OW and the award availability should be there. Ah, the routings I got away with from the DM folks.

  3. When I can get through (which has become increasingly challenging with the new ITR and extended wait times), I can usually tell within 15 seconds if I have a real EXP agent (by which I mean experienced and knowledgeable) or not. The good ones really are great — I just had one 30 minutes ago — but it’s been a decidedly more mixed bag in the last 18 months. If the wait has been short to get them to answer and the agent isn’t great, I’ll just HUCA — it tends to get much faster and better results.

  4. Lucky, have you ever talked with “Lorain Cross” she is in the Cary office and probably one of the best around. If you find a good one you can request them every time and be transferred or they can call you back.. You’ll probably find the Cary, NC office to have the best remaining agents.

  5. If you can NOT understand what the person said then by all means say “i could not understand what you said can you please repeat that”

    When you have to type your account number it only works for the automated part of the call. Once you start talking with a person you have to GIVE them your name and account number.

    Makes me miss the days of call centers being in India. They may have had heavy accents but knew what to do

  6. I’m not even sure were getting dedicated EXP agents any more. 1 in 3 times the agent doesn’t mention EXP at all and 2 in 3 times they’re a lot more unhelpful/incapable/uninterested then they were even a year ago. There are still a few gems out there who go above and beyond for us and are truly fantastic if you get hold of them….but they’re rarer and rarer nowadays.

  7. Lucky,

    I have been EXP for 12 years and I can that this year in particular I have seen a difference in the customer service with the desk. The new automated system is painful and slow. The agents are not the same quality. I do however agree with the comment about Lorraine. She is brilliant and has helped me over the years.

  8. We live in the belly of AA. That being Dallas, Tx. After the 2nd worst airline (American) sold out to the very worst airline (US Airways), my husband and I decided to conduct some non scientific research and see which of the remaining big boys would get our business.
    He was scheduled to take a flight on United, a few weeks past my scheduled Delta trip.
    When I called him from SLC, sitting next to a gate where Delta employees were preparing a table filled with soft drinks and sandwiches for a flight that was going to be delayed, I said, “We’ve found our airline”. Who does that anymore? Seriously!
    I admit that it’s not been the easiest, finding the ideal flights, but we are burning through all our saved miles on AA and gladly spending money with an airline that makes you feel human.
    Finally, a company that the accountants haven’t ruined.
    Of course, this is a new marriage for the three of us, let’s hope that the honeymoon stage never ends.
    Lynn

  9. Lucky,
    I have wondered the same thing about the “Customer Service” desk for Platinum and EP this year. It used to be a great, seamless process and as noted above of late – horrible. I’ve had to call multiple times (for different reasons) over the past month and each time I seem to get routed to an agent who 1) is rude, 2) speaks broken English 3) does not help me and routes me to another # wherein I start the wait on hold all over again. I have also had to enter and then give my Advantage # each step of the way.

    Hopefully AA is being made aware of this as it really is no way to provide service to those of us who are loyal to them.

  10. You should have played along more. Mumble something back. Have a fascinating dialogue. See if the problem gets resolved. I once did this with an Indian child sitting next to me on plane. He kept speaking in his language to me (which I understand none). After a while I started replying in my non-English native tongue. Best mutually non-understandable conversation I never had.

  11. This is happening because they haven’t properly trained the USAIr people. I have had all kinds of issues with Executive Plat. Desk and AA Cust. Service including not re-depositing miles or refunding money.
    It sits in the “que” until you call and remind them.

  12. Not ExPlat but I’m platium desk last night.
    “I’d like to book two biz tickets SIN- CMB” at 5pm on Sri lanka airways.

    “Ma’am where are those cities?”

    “departing SIN – to CNB”

    “Where?”
    “Singapore to Colombo”

    “To Colombia?”
    “No Colombo, Sri lanka”
    “Okay, well we can’t issue you a reward ticket tbere.”
    “Why? According to the inventory there are 4 award tickets available…I just need two.”
    “Because it’s a Qantas codeshare.”
    “Okay…”
    “And because Sri lanka airlines isn’t apart of our network.”
    “Ma’am they joined the one world alliance on 2014.. Can I speak to your supervisor maybe they can help.”
    “no, we aren’t partners with them, you must be confused”
    Click.

    Called back again. Got it booked in 5 minutes.

  13. At least your hold times are, hopefully, reasonable. I don’t have status with AA, so I’ve had a period of a few of weeks in the spring when I’d be on hold for 1.5-2 hours every time when trying to deal with award reservations which involved JAL (i.e. not possible to do online). That was truly frustrating.

  14. Recently had the opposite experience. Needed to change a points flight NYC-LAX and had amazing assistance. The agent waited online while I bought more points (upgraded to the new First Class) and made sure everything was finalised. Even asked what seat I wanted. No complaints from AUS.

  15. Same as Ivan Y above, I don’t have status with AA so it was hours of wait time each time I called AA.

    Worst part was that I’d input my phone # to get a call back, but despite inputting information to the automated part multiple times for international travel, the call back would be from domestic/regular department and require further wait and transfer to international department.

    The saddest part is that actually when I do reach an agent, compared to the US Airways agents I’ve dealt with, they are stunningly competent. I didn’t realize that an award ticket can be booked in 15-20 minutes instead of the 1-2 hours previously. Guess it all evens out. Haha.

  16. Meh your fault you wanted to listen to her mumbles this is what you get. I’ve been following your posts for a while and honestly you let people get away with too much far too often. But it’s your life so do whatever it is that pleases you, just don’t complain about it after. These days if you don’t proactively remove stupidity from your life, walk away or hang up from/on idiots you are gonna spend lots of time dealing with them. People need to learn to be comfortable enough with themselves to be rude of abrupt when called for.

  17. Lucky – have you not seen their advertising “Going for Great”

    there is nothing special at all being Executive Platinum over the phone. Get to know your gate agents and check in agents in your home city. they will take care of you..

  18. I too very rarely call AA reservations. But lately I have made several calls to book and rebook an award ticket on Etihad. The automated call center is a joke. I have tried several different ways to speed up the process. I ask for Intl Reservations and am told “due to high volumes, they can call me back in 30 plus minutes or I can hold the line. What customer service? Then you have to listen to the long speech about what’s not allowed on board. HELLO, we are elite flyers, we know, we know. American needs to step it up and real quickly.

  19. I wouldn’t paint the entire AA CSR’s with the same brush. I havr had great experiences with the EXP line. Just recently I tried to manually clear an upgrade and she said that I had to wait as it was in process. She tool down my cell phone number and said she will call me when she can clear it. An hour later she called and confirmed my upgrade. It depends on which CSR you get.

  20. Lucky: At the end I said “well, thanks for your help… I just wish it hadn’t taken 30 minutes to get to this point.”

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to send such mixed messages (or alternatively sarcasm, if that was what it was), as if that call is later reviewed it could be said you felt you had been helped, when clearly that’s not what your saying here.

    Given you make a point of clearly stating things, why not just do the same, with regards to your message – “Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like this call resolved my matter, which is a shame. I guess I might need to follow up later. Thanks for your time anyway” – polite enough, truthful enough, and not straying hard into passive-aggressiveness.

    Alternatively, as others have suggested, if you know it’s going south during your call and you feel uncomfortable bringing it up, politely HUCA early.

    It’s just a suggestion, but I think you’ll find yourself less irritated by doing either of these in future.

  21. What Jay said – geeze, Ben, grow a pair & say something when the problem arises. Don’t wait until you’re hanging up to make a half-hearted complaint & then write a post about what could have been avoided!

  22. Totally agree about the slipping of the Exec Plat desk. They used to be superb, much better than United’s 1K line. Now they’re no better and perhaps a bit worse (and it’s not because United has gotten better).

  23. This can happen when agents are on a call and it drops (maybe the last customer was on a cell phone and went through a tunnel), then the next call pops in, and the agent has more to do for the last person… The agent can sometimes say that he is looking up stuff for you when in reality he’s just finishing up the last call. Then when the agent realises he’s in hot water, he might draw the call out so that it’s longer than his supervisor is likely to monitor–call center supervisors aren’t the patientest of people, they won’t do a quality evaluation on a 30 minute call, they’ll be looking for nice compact 4-6 minute calls to evaluate so they can get through their entire list of agents. So by drawing out the call and not solving your issue, the agent may have shot his stats for the day, but his quality scores won’t tank and he’s still fixed the last caller’s problem. Pure speculation of course!

  24. I’ve only been EXP for a little while, but I have had to call a few times, and I haven’t seen a difference in the service from my 5 or so years as PLAT, even with the wait times for the call to be answered. I was really looking forward to calling when I made EXP given the glowing reports I see on the internet, and I’ve been rather disappointed.

  25. Makes me so glad I fly Delta! Yes, they’ve made all sorts of unreasonable changes to Skymiles, but the front-line, damn they’re good!

  26. @Lucky — While I do believe that everything you said about the agent’s lacking communication skills stands, you may have been guilty of the same thing. 🙂 Surely, in the span of 30 minutes you could have found a way to extract some information from her without pissing her off (which I assume is something you were trying to avoid). Next time, try this: “Excuse me, ma’am, I have a bad connection on my end and I couldn’t hear that last thing you said; do you mind repeating it, please?” Use your voice. 😉

  27. Having to HUCA really shouldn’t have to be an option. If so, then there are large systemic issues. So many CRM metrics these days measure call answer time, call duration, and number of calls handled. Quality seems to be the silent victim.

  28. If you want real frustration call the Avianca call center! Many of their English-speaking agents have a totally unjustified confidence in their English speaking ability, and quickly decend into rapid-fire Spanglish jibberish. HUCA? Do you really have another spare hour or so?

  29. EXPlat desk service has definitely declined. yesterday I was trying to do a sameday flight change, and although the agent seemed helpful, ultimately she was useless. At the end of the call she closed with “Thank you for calling US Air.”

  30. Okay, I’ve been reading for several months about the problems people have experienced with AA CS. Now I’m going to chime in. I’m an AA Platinum right now after having been a US AIR Chairman for several years. Unfortunately, I only have another month to work with US and it makes me very sad.

    I recently flew LAX/SIN and upgraded using miles and money. No problems there. On the return I upgraded again using miles and money and when I got to LAX I got an automated email stating that 100,000 miles had been deducted from my account for this return flight. I immediately called AA Plat desk but was told I would have to speak with CS and they were only open until 5 PM CT. M-F. Amazes me that CS is limited to 7-5 CT M-F. Shouldn’t it be 24/7/365? I’m in PT.

    When I did finally get to speak to someone there I was passed around three different times before I could speak to anyone who could actually help me. What I thought would be a very easy fix (because it clearly was a mistake for them to deduct the additional 75,000 points) and with US they would have had them redeposited immediately. AA needed to research and it would take 10 days. 10 days turned into 15. Each time I called was told “they were still researching” 15 turned into 20. It took almost a month to redeposit the missing miles.

    On the other hand, I’ve had awesome help from CS in scheduling a complex FF ticket with a very patient agent and supervisor. What I’m seeing with AA CS is that they are very ununiform in their helping elite desk passengers. I may be crazy but think everyone regardless of status should be given the same excellent CS.

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