We’ve had the chance to speak with each of the call centers of the airlines that fly to Hawaii. Booking flights in order to do Hawaii flight reviews recently afforded us the opportunity to speak to several of these centers, and we decided to contact all of the remaining airlines to see how well they dealt with the same request. While not overly “scientific” in our approach, we did our best to be as evenhanded and consistent as possible. Results varied dramatically in terms of quality, phone systems, wait times, and call center agent interactions. One thing that’s good news, is that almost everyone is answering the phone much faster now. We had very few significant wait times in the process.
Keep in mind that if you are a frequent flyer with an airline, that can change your experience when calling customer service. The airlines are masters of data, and they know who is calling and how to parse out calls for their benefit.
Regarding foreign call centers, only two of the six domestic airlines flying to Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines, had foreign call center agents who answered our call. If you didn’t know, the average pay for Philippine call center workers is $240-$270 per month with limited opportunities for advancement.
Alaska Airlines. 10/10.
- Technology: 10/10. Simple phone tree.
- Wait time: 10/10 There was a wait time of fewer than 2 minutes.
- Interaction: 10/10 The call was answered by an Alaska agent based in Seattle. The experience with the agent was good, and they were helpful and knowledgeable. They were well versed in their website and pointed out exactly where to go. In our experience with them, the agents are always good, albeit not as overtly friendly as Southwest.
American Airlines. 10/10.
- Technology: 10/10. Simple phone tree. A two-question survey was offered that would be available at the end of the call.
- Wait time: 10/10 There was a wait time of less than 1 minute.
- Interaction: 10/10 The call was answered by an American agent based in the US The experience with the agent was good, and they were easy and helpful. They were knowledgeable too.
Delta Airlines. 5/10.
- Technology: 4/10 Somewhat complex, slow phone tree. The voice response system answered with my name immediately even though I haven’t called them in years. While waiting, the options provided were more helpful than expected, including such things as how to transfer Amex points for a Delta reservation, which is something we had in mind. The callback feature worked well. A one-question survey was offered
- Wait time: 0/10 There was an estimated wait time of 12 minutes. A callback option was offered as well as a phone texting option. We decided to just wait online to see how long it would take. After about 15 minutes we were told that we were being transferred to a live agent. The music ended, but no agent came on the line, although the call was not disconnected. After waiting another 5 minutes, we called back and requested a callback.
- Interaction: 10/10 The second call was answered by a Delta agent based in the United States who was knowledgeable and helpful. We also let her know about the problem we encountered with their interactive voice system, and she expressed concern over the issue and assured us that it would be referred to the proper channels.
Hawaiian Airlines. 7/10.
- Technology: 10/10. Simple phone tree.
- Wait time: 10/10. Less than one minute
- Interactions: 3/10. The call was answered by a foreign call center located in the Philippines. Our extensive experience with the agents has not been great. The center was previously located in Honolulu, at which point the service was second to none, but in 2007 Hawaiian decided to outsource these calls to Manilla. Now it can sometimes take multiple agents and a long time on the phone to get what you want. Such has been our experience when changing reservations, or when asking about currently available mileage requirements for upgrades.
- Note: Our experience with the lack of ability to apply prior flight credits online, and the fact that only higher fare classes are available for reusing credits is concerning but did not affect our scoring.
Southwest Airlines. 10/10.
- Technology: 10/10 Simple phone tree.
- Wait time: 10/10 Less than one minute.
- Interaction: 10/10 Call answered by Texas-based US agent likely an employee of SWA. Very engaged, high-quality experience.
United Airlines. 7/10.
- Technology: 7/10. Overly complicated phone tree. The voice response system asked if I wanted to participate in a survey at the end of the call.
- Wait time: 9/10. Less than two minutes.
- Interactions: 4/10. The call was answered by a foreign call center agent located in the Philippines who is likely not an employee of UAL. The phone was answered within one minute, and the agent was helpful.