Tips for playing airline phone agent roulette

Conventional wisdom for just about everything related to booking travel is to hang up and call again if you don’t get the answer you want (assuming your requests are somewhat reasonable). So as I sit here right now playing agent roulette (in this case with US Airways), I figured I’d compile a few tips:

  • Take down the agents’ names. I’ve called US Airways five times so far this evening and twice got connected to the same person. It helps to know whether you’ve spoken to someone just recently, since it can be pretty embarrassing to make the same request again.
  • Don’t argue with the agent if you don’t get the answer you want. Even if you’re asking for something perfectly legitimate, if you don’t get the answer you want, don’t argue. This is especially true if you’re working with an existing itinerary, since agents can note your record negatively. If you just ask a question and don’t argue, they most likely won’t note your record. If you ask for a supervisor or argue with them, there’s a good chance they’ll note your record, which is not a good thing.
  • Spread out your calls a bit. Okay, this is only if you’re very persistent. I’ve been in the situation before where I’m talking to an agent after having called a few times before, and the agent sitting next to them picks up on the fact that I had called earlier. This is especially true late at night when there aren’t all that many agents working, and even more true if you need to speak to a supervisor or service director, as there are even fewer of those on duty.
  • Try not to listen to the hold advertisements/music. You’ll go crazy. Just trust me on this one.
Filed Under: Advice
  1. I usually use speakerphone to avoid having to listen to the hold music directly in my ear. When getting an unpleasant or combative agent, then the best thing to do is to thank them for their help and state you’ll think over your options. Then call back later and hope you do not get the same agent.:)

  2. I once had an agent negatively notate my record (ok, I was arguing pretty bad about availability of a * flight that CO claimed they couldn’t see!) I called a week later, for a totally legit change, and the agent said she needed to read the notes. I was like CRAP. She started out with ‘hmmm, customer is advised’ and at that point I just cut her off and said ‘this is about a totally different issue’. She was like ‘thanks for saving me from reading all that!’ and we went on to have a very pleasant conversation. So no, negative comments aren’t the death curse.

  3. Lucky, can you elaborate on what it means to have a “negative notation” on the itinerary record? How does that affect what you are trying to do moving forward? Thanks!

  4. @ Andrew — Sure. Each airline booking (“record locator”) has a notes section where agents notate pertinent information. So for example, if I’m calling an airline as your assistant, they would typically notate in the record “assistant called,” or something like that. Similarly, let’s say you try to add a stopover to an award ticket and it’s not allowed. The agent will most likely note something in the record along the lines of “customer was informed that an additional stopover is not permitted on award.”

    Whenever you call back with that record locator, the agent is first supposed to read the notes in the record. So if it’s a complex ticket that you’ve called often about, you may briefly be put on hold when you give the agent the record locator so that they can “catch up” by reading the notes.

    If you innocently call and ask a question, like “can I have a stopover in XYZ city,” you’re told “no,” and you don’t argue with the agent and say “oh, okay, thanks for your help,” the agent might not feel the need to notate your record. If you argue, ask for a supervisor, etc., it’s always a sure bet that they’ll note your record.

    When something is noted in your record it’s not the end of the world, though a future agent is a lot less likely to be willing to do something if it contradicts what the notes in the record say.

    Make sense?

  5. Amen to that last one. I’m a loyal United flier and all, but man, I used to *like* “Rhapsody in Blue”…

  6. “Thank you for calling United Airlines 1K desk. Please keep in mind that this private number is for the exclusive use of our 1K customers, or their travel professionals.”

    Just one of many useless automated telephone recordings stuck in my head for the rest of my life.

  7. Sometimes the airlines have hold music that is just slightly behind the music they play in my agency…that’s a particular treat.
    Pro tip for Canadians – always press 2 (or whatever) for French help. Act confused when they speak French to you. They can all (well, 97% of them) help you in English and you’re guaranteed they are on this side of the world.

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