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

Jul 14, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

“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.

“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 photo by Philip Pilosian/

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.