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How to quickly reach an airline customer service agent

July 01, 2022
13 min read
People looking at a flight board in Hamburg airport
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with timely information to help travelers this summer. Even with these strategies, you should expect significant wait times when calling airlines.


One of the busiest travel weekends of the year is here, and with the travel industry closer than ever to pre-pandemic volume, flyers should come to terms with the fact that there’ll be some headaches along the way.

Airlines are still ironing out some operational issues, as we saw over Memorial Day weekend. So, do you know the best practices for reaching airline customer service if something goes awry?

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At TPG, we’ve gathered together some helpful customer service tips and tricks to help you quickly get your derailed trip back on track. One of the most effective techniques is knowing how to bypass the labyrinth of automated phone menus and reach an actual human to resolve your issue. Let’s take a look.

General tips for reaching airline customer service

(Photo By Carlos Lujan/Europa Press/Getty Images)

We’ll get into some airline-by-airline tips in a minute. Let’s first look at a few important principles to keep in mind before you pick up the phone.

Automated systems are more prevalent than ever

Instead of selecting a number for a given option, you’re requested to describe what you’re calling about. Trying to skip these automated menus by saying “agent” (or any other response) often makes your call longer. Slowly and clearly say a general sentence about why you’re calling so you can be placed in the proper queue.

When in doubt, say 'existing reservation'

We’ve found that if you tell the automated system that you already have a reservation, you’ll sometimes end up at a customer service representative faster than had you called to make a new reservation.

Politeness is key

The phone agent with whom you’re speaking didn’t single-handedly delay your flight. Imagine yourself on the other side of the phone fielding dozens of calls like yours when a big delay is ravaging the calculated plans of hundreds of irate travelers.

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The majority of us who call airline customer service aren’t singing the praises of the airline. Just remember that maintaining a level head and being respectful can mean the difference in getting your situation resolved. We’ve had amazing support from phone representatives as a result of being pleasant and polite.

Try to avoid calling on the go

You don’t want to be approaching the end of a complicated story only to either lose the call or have a phone agent miss the majority of what you’re saying. Make sure your connection is solid and your phone battery is charged before calling customer service.

Enter your frequent flyer number, if prompted

Being a member of an airline’s loyalty program can only help to reach an agent faster. I know when calling ANA, I reach an airline agent almost instantly when I enter my ANA Mileage Club number. This doesn’t apply across the board, but entering (or speaking) your number certainly doesn’t hurt.

Try calling the local phone number

If you're trying to get in touch with an international airline, consider calling their home phone line. For example, try calling the French line for Air France or the German line for Lufthansa. Oftentimes, these call centers have an English option and may get you in touch faster than using the U.S. phone number, which may have less staff. You can use Skype to call these numbers to avoid international phone charges.

Related: Your flight is canceled or delayed — here’s what you should do next

How to contact airline customer service

Let’s review each major U.S. carrier and how to reach a phone agent the quickest. You might want to bookmark this page ahead of any July Fourth travel, as it’s an easy one-stop-shop for customer service numbers.

American Airlines

Best approach: Live chat with AA via aa.com or the American Airlines mobile app.

Best phone number: 1-800-882-8880.

If you’ve called the system before, AA will recognize your number and ask you directly what your call is about. If not, speak your AAdvantage number slowly and clearly to start the call.

After being greeted by name, say “reservation,” then “existing reservation” and then “travel changes.” You’ll be prompted for a confirmation number. If you don’t have one, just say, “I don’t have it.” You’re then asked if all flights are in the U.S. After this, you’re in the queue to be transferred to an agent.

American is great about giving you an idea of how long your hold time is when it asks if you’d prefer to be called back. If it’s still going to be a long hold, enter your phone number and an agent will give you a call back, usually right in the estimated window.

Alternately, you can live chat with AA on either the mobile app or the website. If you’re on the computer, head to the contact page and find the chat icon in the bottom right corner of the page.

This app also has an automated system, but we’ve found that if you type “delayed or canceled flights,” it will spit out a generic answer. If you then select “My question has not been answered,” it will put you in the queue for a live agent.

(Screenshot from aa.com)

I just tested the wait times between the chat feature and the phone, and here’s what I got:

  • AA chat: 45 minutes.
  • Phone: 3 hours 33 minutes.

The one caution to using the app is that the agents can’t take payment information. So depending on what you need, the phone may be your only option.

Alaska Airlines

Best approach: Text “ALASKA” to 82008.

Best phone number: 1-800-654-5669.

When you call, an automated bot will answer the phone. Say “change my reservation.” You’ll then be asked for your confirmation number. You can just say “I don’t have it,” and you’ll be put in line to talk to an agent.

Other options are to text “ALASKA” to 82008 and an agent can help you over messaging, or chat Alaska via its contact page. When chatting online, you’ll have to enter your name and Alaska Airlines number. You’ll immediately be put in the queue for an agent.

As an experiment, I’ve tested all three options for their current wait times:

  • By phone: 1 hour.
  • By text: 19 minutes.
  • By online chat: 18 minutes.

It appears that the phone option is far and away the slowest.

Delta

Best approach: Text Delta via the Delta app.

Best phone number: 1-800-323-2323.

When calling, say “existing reservation.” If you’ve called the number before, your account will automatically be recognized. If not, key in your SkyMiles number. By not selecting any of the automated prompts, you’ll be put in line to speak to an agent. You’ll be given the option to receive a call back instead of waiting on hold.

Alternately, if you head to the Delta App, scroll to the “contact us” option under the “more” option on the bottom right corner of the app screen. You have the ability to message Delta for a quick text communication.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

Here’s another quick wait time comparison:

  • Text conversation: 7 minutes.
  • Phone: 1 hour 15 minutes.

Phone communication loses again by a landslide.

JetBlue

Best approach: Online chat.

Best phone number: 1-800-538-2583.

Select Option 2 for reservations and hit 2 again to signal an existing reservation. You’ll automatically be put in a queue and given an estimated wait time.

You can also chat on a mobile device or on your desktop browser. Head to the JetBlue contact us page to see your options. Via chat, I’ve found that the fastest way to speak to a representative is to select “Change flight booking,” then click “Yes,” and then “I still need help.” You’ll then be prompted to enter your last name and (optional) JetBlue loyalty number.

Here are the current wait times compared:

  • By chat: 30 minutes.
  • By phone: 39 minutes.

In a situation where wait times are this comparable, I’d probably opt for the phone.

Southwest

Best approach/phone number: 1-800-435-9792.

Alternate option: Live chat via the Southwest app.

Unlike other airlines, you don’t call the Rapid Rewards customer service number. Call the reservations number listed above, and then select option 2 followed by option 1 or 2 for domestic and Puerto Rico or international travel. You’ll be transferred to an agent or given an estimated hold time.

You can also use chat via the Southwest app. The Southwest automated chat aggressively keeps you away from a live agent. Here’s the quickest way I’ve found to reach them (though I’m sure there’s a more direct route):

  • Select “Travel Funds & Refunds.”
  • Select “Wanna Get Away.”
  • Select No, I still need help.”
  • Select “Chat with Agent.”

The app doesn’t seem to provide a wait time, unfortunately. I waited about 10 minutes before logging off. On the other hand, calling Southwest yielded a live person within three minutes.

Spirit

Best approach: Online chat.

Best phone number: 1-855-728-3555.

When calling Spirit, select option 2 for changes to an existing reservation. You can then select option 2 and then option 1 to be put in the queue for a customer service agent. Unfortunately, Spirit does not estimate a wait time over the phone.

You can also chat with Spirit on WhatsApp and via the Spirit Airlines contact page. I’ve found the fastest way to navigate the contact page is the following:

  • The bot will ask if this is about a flight cancellation. Select “Yes.”
  • Select “Rebook Me.”
  • Enter your name.
  • Select “skip.”
  • Enter your email.
  • Enter your preferred travel time.

This yielded a very reasonable 20-minute wait.

United

Best approach/phone number: 1-800-421-4655.

Alternate option: Online chat.

If you’ve called United before, the system should recognize you. All you need to do is say “reservations” to be automatically put in line to speak to a human.

The wait time for a phone agent was 10 minutes in this case. You can also chat with United via the customer support page. Here’s how to quickly get an agent in-chat:

  • Select “Book a flight.”
  • Select “I have a question.”
  • Select “Other related information.”
  • Select “Chat with an agent.”
  • Specify whether your travel is domestic or international.

The wait time for a chat was 20 minutes. Here’s a rare case where it’s quicker and easier to just call the airline.

Related: Best credit cards for booking airfare

Advanced options to reach airline assistance

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Download the DoNotPay app

This app is helpful in a variety of ways far beyond travel, but it does have a “Jump the phone queue and never wait on hold again” feature where the app will direct your request to the right airlines and forward the call to you after waiting on hold. Head to the “Customer Service” section of the app. It will ask you which company you are having a problem with and you simply respond with the airline you want to call.

The app will then ask for a brief description of what you want to talk to them about and ask if you want the app to have the airline call you instead of you waiting on hold. DoNotPay has built out a database of priority and VIP customer service numbers for tons of companies.

For legality, if you opt in to recording the exchanges, the app automatically plays a message informing both parties they’ll be recorded. A human voice detection system hears when a real agent picks up the phone and then rings your phone.

Use Twitter

Another solid option is utilizing Twitter. The social media teams for many hotel and airline companies have some of the most competent and responsive customer service reps I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve canceled, changed and rebooked award and revenue tickets on Twitter, in addition to selecting seats, asking complicated questions about award redemptions and even changing a routing for free.

When in doubt, shoot a tweet or direct message to handles like @Delta and @United, and you may be pleasantly surprised by your experience (just don’t publicly tweet your confirmation number or similar — save that for direct messaging).

Try a foreign call center

As previously mentioned, dialing a foreign call center is another great strategy for reaching agents in a more reasonable amount of time. This requires an app such as Skype, Talkatone, Viber or Google Voice to make the calls affordable. Some of my go-to call centers are Singapore (+65 6823 2095) and Hong Kong (+852 3002 1208) for British Airways; the Japan call center (+81 3 3298 4719) for Etihad Airways; the Australia call center (+61 02-9101-1948 ) for American; and the Japan call center (+81 0570-077733) for Delta.

Just remember to add or take away the necessary zeros before the phone number if you’re calling from the U.S.

Use the Spanish line

You can also try the foreign language-speaking agents for U.S. airlines, who will generally also speak English. If all else fails and you have the option to push 2 for Spanish, go ahead and head that way to get quick help when the English line is hopelessly backed up.

Bottom line

Elite status members of an airline’s frequent flyer program usually have access to different phone numbers and can enjoy shorter wait times and potentially better service. But not everyone has elite status — and during peak times, even elites may be faced with a lengthy queue. Exercising these tips can really come in handy for just about anyone.

Additional reporting by Richard Kerr.

Featured image by (Photo by Marcus Brandt/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023