Long airline hold times continue as Americans race to book spring and summer travel

Apr 23, 2021

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Hours spent on hold with airlines has been the norm for the past several months, and according to some passengers, there’s little sign of change.

As air travel demand has begun to pick up in earnest, corresponding with the accelerated pace of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, airlines have noted an unprecedented increase in new bookings.

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However, as passengers try to use a variety of vouchers, credits, and canceled tickets from the height of the pandemic to book their post-vaccination travel, they’re flooding airline reservation support lines.

For instance, Nick Christopher experienced a two-hour wait time when he called American Airlines after having an issue redeeming a flight credit online, he told TPG. He initially also had trouble getting the airline’s call-back feature to work, though eventually managed to request a return call when he was at the front of the queue.

Related: Airline hold times are growing as passengers try to use millions of travel vouchers — a sign of the coming travel boom

Over the course of 2020, the biggest four airlines — American, Delta, Southwest and United — had issued around 21.5 million credits and vouchers, worth a combined $10.4 billion, a previous analysis by TPG found.

Now, passengers are trying to put those vouchers to work. About 12% of all new tickets for travel with United are being purchased with credits, chief operating officer Andrew Nocella said earlier this week.

That’s led to a deluge of calls to airline reservations agents, along with calls from passengers who need help for other issues with their flights.

Earlier this month, for example, Josh Fiallo needed to link his reservation on Delta with his girlfriend’s separate reservation for the same flight. He called the reservation line and was given an estimated hold time of an hour; three hours later, he gave up and tried texting the airline, Fiallo told TPG.

The airlines all say they’re working on meeting the customer demand.

“American is working quickly to resolve the issue, and we appreciate our customers’ patience,” a spokesperson for the airline said. “While call wait times are longer, we recently began the process to return more representatives to work so that we can better support our customers.”

“While we are seeing a higher call volume from customers who are excited to start traveling again, we are working to best support our customers by increasing staffing resources and providing self-service options to assist with their travel needs,” a Delta representative told TPG. “We recommend that customers who need to rebook, make changes or want to explore travel requirements, first try using our online self-service tools to make adjustments.”

Related: Where you can go once you are vaccinated: A country-by-country guide

A Southwest representative said that while hold times have been longer than normal lately, they’ve been decreasing recently.

Ultimately, the best step seems to be to plan ahead wherever possible and anticipate the long wait.

Also worth noting: passengers with elite frequent flyer status may find shorter wait times if they call dedicated elite phone lines. TPG’s Zach Honig, for instance, has had little-to-no wait in recent days when calling United’s 1K line.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that long hold times remain an ongoing concern for travelers. 

Featured image by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images

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