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Delta says those long call-center hold times should improve by September

July 14, 2021
4 min read
Delta Boeing 717 taking off at LAX
Delta says those long call-center hold times should improve by September
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Hours-long hold times have finally begun to ease at some airlines in the U.S., but at others it can still take hours on hold — or even several tries on different days — to finally get through to a call center agent.

In recent weeks, Delta has stood out as the worst performer, according to experiences shared by passengers, TPG readers and TPG staff.

Help is finally on the way, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said Wednesday during a call with investors and media. But even so, things are unlikely to get back to normal before the busy summer travel season draws to a close.

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"We'll be fully back over the next couple of months," Bastian said. "The service levels that customers should expect and deserve, you'll be getting that from Delta in the next couple of months."

"And by September, we expect to get that back down to normal levels," he added, referencing hold times.

It is not fully clear why Delta's wait times have been so consistently worse than other carriers, although both industry insiders and the airline itself have pointed to staffing.

“Delta tends to run lean, so it’s completely different for them,” Cowen analyst Helane Becker told TPG last month about why cuts are centers might be hitting Delta harder than others.

The staffing levels were left even leaner after about half of the call center team took early retirements or buyouts during the pandemic, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant told TPG in June.

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"While the increase in bookings is great news for Delta, the welcomed customer volume has outpaced staffing that was left diminished by 50% when our people took voluntary early retirement or separation packages to help Delta get through the many pandemic-driven challenges in 2020,” he said.

Delta plans to hire 1,300 additional customer support agents by September, Durrant said at the time, and has rehired several hundred of the reservation specialists who took buyouts.

"We're hiring a couple thousand people into reservations," Bastian said on Wednesday. "We've already hired at least half that number."

The issue now, which is contributing to the ongoing delays, is getting those new staffers trained and up to speed to that they can be deployed to help with calls.

More: The 9-hour wait: Here’s why airline hold times are so bad

"The challenge, as I mentioned on the call, is the training," Bastian said. "The time it takes to get people into position."

"It takes a few months, and the demand has come back at such a fast clip, it's taken us all a little bit of time to catch our breath," he added.

Still compounding the issue is the volume of callers and the complexity of issues they need help with, as travel demand continues to recover at a faster pace than was forecast.

"The volumes are beyond anything we've ever seen," Bastian said. "They're beyond the high point of 2019, and the handling times are substantially longer as people have more questions, as travel has changed their first time back."

Latest: Airline hold times: Who’s doing best right now?

The company plans to hire 4,000 to 5,000 employees by the end of 2021, Bastian said, and has had no shortage of applicants despite the reported labor shortage.

"People look at the Delta brand as a place they want to be long-term and they see this as an opportunity to get inside," Bastian said. "We're very competitive in the market, we pay our people well, we take great care of them."

Featured image by (Photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock.com)
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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TPG Editor‘s Rating
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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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • 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
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the 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