Call centers do better job during storm
Fewer passengers ease airlines’ load
Airline call centers did a better job of helping passengers during this week’s snow storm, although that’s largely because there were fewer passengers in need of help.
Airlines increasingly prefer to communicate with passengers by e-mail and social media and have reduced the number of call center operators. That left the centers unprepared when thousands of holiday travelers were stranded by the Northeast blizzard.
Some airline 800-numbers were jammed and stopped taking calls. Delta’s website went down, preventing travelers from rebooking on their own.
This time the system seems to have worked better. The airlines added staff and lengthened hours at call centers, but the biggest reason may be that planes are less crowded in the second week of January.
The toll-free numbers at airlines including Delta, American, and
The airlines may have taken a lesson from the December experience.
Those moves were prompted because US airlines have cut about 160,000 jobs in the past decade, including thousands in call centers. They have nudged travelers to make reservations for themselves online by charging fees to book over the phone with an agent.
American spokesman Tim Smith said calls this week also were typically shorter than last month because agents could quickly find open seats on later flights. That’s because there were more open seats.
Airlines now routinely ask customers when they book a flight for phone numbers and e-mail addresses to which the airline can send a text or e-mail message when a flight is canceled. Some have smartphone apps that let travelers book flights.
They are also assigning employees to monitor Twitter and help stranded passengers who post updates about their plight on social media websites, although the handful of workers could quickly become overwhelmed, said Anne Banas of website SmarterTravel.
“Try the apps, try Twitter, try the phone, try them all,’’ Banas said. With thousands of cancelations, the airlines are not “always prepared for the high volume of people who need to rebook.’’