Topic of the Week: United’s Long Phone Holds


It’s been almost 3 weeks since United combined with Continental into a new reservation system and as I said right after, the transition has gone well. But there is one side effect that’s not sitting too well with many . . . long phone holds. If you follow me on Twitter, you saw me want to rip my hair out on Monday of this week. Three weeks into this combined system, my patience is wearing thin. What about you? Have long hold times plagued your United experience? Will it impact your decision to fly the airline?

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46 comments on “Topic of the Week: United’s Long Phone Holds

  1. I had to reschedule a flight yesterday, and had called twice before, but was warned of longer hold times, and told it would be for 25 minutes. I called back multiple times and random times, but was greeted each time by the same message. By the third call, I sucked it up and waiting because it didn’t seem as though it would change. I was on hold for exactly 25 minutes, almost like they’re requiring you to stay on hold as long as the message warns.

  2. Brett – I would love to hear your take on a US Airways – AA merger and how labor would be affected. As far as I know, America West and US Air pilots haven’t even figured out their seniority list and combining the two groups. How would a merger with AA play out?

  3. Long holds will be a bane to UA. There are just too many people that need to talk to someone about a reservation. I try to avoid it because I tire of explaining what I’m doing to some of the clueless agents (yes… I fly DL a lot). If and when I need a human long holds certainly leave a sour taste in my mouth. However, if they are broadcasting your wait time and position in line that would mitigate the problem. At least I could just leave it on speakerphone and do other things.

  4. Why are so many people calling United in the first place should be the real question. Airlines have wanted people to only use their website for everything and not call.

    So is their website not able to handle everyday business now so people must call?

    1. The problem is that the transition of UA info over to CO’s old res systems created a lot of issues that are not “everyday business.” For example, I know several people with UA itineraries that now have entire flight segments missing. Definitely not something any airline web site would be able to handle…

      There are also website-specific issues; for example, the website is charging fees on transactions for those who should have fee waivers, e.g., top level elites.

  5. I just had necessity to call UA to try to change a code share currently booked on AC. Note I Am a 1K, and the operator welcomed me to the 1K desk. Hold time was non-existent. However, she spoke with a very heavy accent and her English was poor. Are 1K calls being routed offshore?

  6. Do you think it would be worth it in places like New York and LA to have center city ticket offices run by, e.g. Star Alliance or OneWorld? So people (esp. High Value Customers) can get their problems fixed with a human. Of course it would cost money and that’s why center city offices were eliminated in the first place. But in places like New York it might make sense. Oneworld already has a HQ in NYC and many airlines have their own offices.

    1. That would not solve the problem. Case in point, I have been at YYZ today since 6:00 am. AC has several cacellations because of the labor action (including my flight). AC rebooked me on UA, but UA reps said they could not see the tickets! Three trips across the concourse from row A to J and back…problem still not solved. If this is the situation with Business Class, Elite Level flyers, I hate to think what is happening with other passengers. A One World or Star Alliance office will only help, I think, if the systems of individual airlines can talk to each other which is not the case, otherwise AC and UA- both Star Alliance members…sent me back and forth causing me to stand in lines six times…I am still sitting at YYZ!

  7. [Flame suit on] Besides one 20 minute wait the Monday following the changeover, I’ve been able to get through in less than two minutes as a 1K. [Flame suite off]

  8. I’m with David SF. If people with puny needs like missing mileage in their accounts and other non-urgent questions would just relax and wait a few weeks, those with urgent needs could be taken care of. It’s like after a disaster, so many people are on the phone with non-urgent communication that the people who really need to communicate can’t place calls. How nice it would be if people could see the whole picture, not just their own needs.

    1. So I have been waiting since early December to get to talk to someone at Continental about an upgrade that was not put back in my account when it wasn’t used. emails, phone calls (all met with “call later, goodbye”.) United told me to wait till March 3 and then they could get in front of the record and fix it. I did, and waited a few weeks (got met with the same “call later, goodbye” message most of the time). Finally got someone and they said too bad, the upgrade expired at the end of January. Talked to a supervisor who would extend it as a courtesy for 2 weeks, till the end of March. Never mind that there was 6 weeks left on it when they were supposed to put it back. Not that losing an upgrade is a big deal – it is really all about how hard they make it to do business and resolve issues, and then their unwillingness to be fair about a resolution, even if it was caused by them. They just suck, by any measure, these days.

  9. Coming back from Hawaii was a joke… Could not check in on line…
    after 35 min even 1k private line could not help saying…. Several airports
    have to check you in manually at the airport… People at Airport were complaining how new system lost their reservations etc.
    Brett I have not seen you comment on NEW United boarding procedures..
    Use to be Elites first then Group 1 2 3 4.. Now Group one thru Group 8..
    You can be in First Class but if not 1 k you must wait until your group 4 or 5 is called. Also takes 4 to 7 days to get your mileage credit now..

    1. I’ve had similar issues with the new boarding procedure — even the gate agents seem confused by it. I was upgraded to first, but my boarding pass didn’t even say which class of service I was in! And I was to board in zone 4, even as a first class pax.

      I actually prefer using zones 1 through 8. First class should be zone 1 and then work downward from there. The old method of calling out all these names was confusing — the agent would say something like “now inviting Premier 1K members to board” and as soon as people heard the word “Premier” they thought that all Premier members could board. At an airport like SFO, that tends to be 2/3 of the plane, so it would turn into mass chaos.

      But there’s no ambiguity at all around zone numbers. “Calling zone 1” is pretty clear and you can see on your boarding pass if you have a 1 or not. So I think the new method is good, but they need to work out some of the kinks and train the gate agents before it will really stick.

      1. Amen regarding the gate agents using ridiculous language, such as “Premier 1K” that only served to confuse everyone. However, even with the new process (which I think is very clear in theory — everyone is in a group), I still have had most agents in the past few weeks say silly stuff like, “Executive Gold,” (not a Premier level), “Presidential Platinum” (old term), etc. It frustrates me, because it’s pure laziness on the part of the gate agents. And, I have to say, it is a specifically United thing — the AA agents seem to be able to figure it out, as do the DL agents. (And, interestingly, I am even getting DL e-mail surveys after my segments asking me if the gate agents stuck to the procedures.)

  10. I get all the frustration with the reservation, imminent travel issues. It sucks. What I have also found is even calling MileagePlus to resolve issues with your account gets met with something to the effect of, “We are experiencing a high volume of calls. Call again later.” and they hang up. No opportunity to even wait. This is the old Continental process. Now it is United. Customer service is non-existent. For those of you that have seen the onboard video of Jeff S. saying that if he met us on a flight he would say “thank you for flying United”, I just pray for the day I see him on a flight. I would tell him what it is really like to be a 1K, Million Mile flier on United these days. This airline has lost all sense of customer service, value and appreciation.

    1. Jeff S is probably not going to step onto a UA aircraft full of passengers for a long time. Likely rightly afraid that some 1Ks and Million Milers might want to do more than just tell him what they think.

      For me, I’m excited to be flying AS next week. An airline without stupid videos from CEOs.

  11. Try Cathay! Their US number has led to a “higher than expected call volume” message and then busy signal for months. I actually have to go to the airport now to deal with any issues.

  12. Its all because of SHARES, it took me 4 calls hours and 4 hours to correct a ticketing mistake. And I get access to the priority line. Going with SHARES may end up being one of the worst business decisions ever.

    1. One other quick point (other than my lack of hair). I have only a cell phone. It costs me extra if I go over my allotted minutes. I have to wonder if some lawyer isn’t going to sue over the unnecessary airtime folks like me would have to use.

  13. I’ve added a third to my list of biggest lies:

    1. “Hi, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”
    2. “Great, good to see you.”
    3. “Your business is very important to us.” Thank you, airline industry.

  14. My impression of United is that this is an airline that in its own mind can do no wrong. Everything bad is someone else’s fault. They are masters of the blame game.

    Once, just once, I’d like to see them publicly admit that they made a mistake, it was entirely their fault, and they are very sorry.

  15. Yes. The HOLD times at United have become obscene. They probably over-estimated the number of folks who were trying to use *BOTH* systems. One hopes that they will fix it, but it won’t be overnight. The difference between a well-trained phone rep and a Very Good One is their years of experience. As we well know, training and line experience are NOT the same thing. So, for the next year or so, Mr. and Mrs. Casual Flyer will have to wait, endure inexperienced agents and wait a LOT longer. If there is one, single benefit that comes with the highest levels of airline’s preferance programs, it is access to ‘special numbers’ that connect to the most experienced telephone agents. If one values one’s time (or the assistant’s time) this is probably the best benefit when one achieves the higher status levels. It DOES make a big difference and often (so he tells me), HIS choice of carriers for MY next trip. He is keeping me off United for a while if only because he has so many other things to deal with. Yes, even the status customers a paying a price while United works through this. Time will tell, but for the moment, some eother carriers are a LOT easier to deal with.

  16. Yes, I agree with all the comments above that it’s impossible to get through to UA on the phone these days. But at least UA has the excuse of having just gone through a pretty major system combination.

    What is BA’s excuse? Twice I have flown SFO to LHR in premium cabin (once in F and another time in J) and can’t get through to BA on the phone prior to my flight. Sometimes the system just says they are too busy and it then disconnects you. Other times, they try to connect you to some “Greece Travel Service” who is some kind of partner, but those folks are totally clueless — and it feels very sketchy, like you’re talking to the guy on those Capital One commercials, the one with the heavy Russian accent who answers the phone as “Laura.” Shocking to see such horrible service from BA, especially for premium class long-haul travelers.

    Sorry for the BA rant, but it puts UA’s current problems into context.

  17. Have called United 14 times over the past 2 days.

    The only thing I need to do? Retrieve my mileageplus number. This number is associated with my cell phone, my address, and my email address, but their website is not recognizing any of these items. Repeated attempts to get to email me my mileageplus number have done NOTHING.

    When I call the 800 number, the number recognizes me, states my name and my account balance, but does not tell me my actual number.

    10 times I have called United only to be told that the wait is so bad, to “try again later” — not even put into the queue!

    Once I told the wait was 3 minutes and I waited over 30.

    Once, I spoke to a real human being — who told me to call back later because her system was down.

  18. Flew SEA-SFO on Tuesday – no issues (but from an old CO Gate with CO Staff)…However, SFO-SEA (Wednesday) the gate agents said there were issues and did a “manual check-in” (scanners didnt work, so they had 1 agent tearing BPs in two, and 3 agents entering seat numbers into SHARES). Agents were professional, but clearly not everything is running 100% yet…flight departed late

  19. One problem with the high hold time on UA is we are now a world of cell phones and people can call from any place. Before with only land line phones you had to be at home, in the office, use a pay phone etc so that stretched out when people could call. Now it doesn’t matter where you are at so more people can be calling at the same time and clogging the lines.

    When companies started trying to push people to use their websites more they didn’t have a need to increase phone lines or people to answer them. Now where the computer is not an option, the humans get swapped by the number of calls they need to handle.

  20. FWIW – in my experience the hold times were just as bad before the merger, at least on CO. Back in January, I was trying to book seats for me and my parents on the same flight, but on two separate reservations. I screwed theirs up, so had to call to fix it. I was on hold for a good 40 minutes. At least the agent I eventually got was very nice and fixed the problem quickly.

  21. The long holds will not impact my decision to fly the airline. Have we become so spoilt that having a little patience has such an effect on us? There are some people in the world who have never been on an aircraft before and would love at a chance to fly to a different place and also experience being in a plane.

  22. Took me a total of 9 hours on hold over three weeks to purchase a group ticket (12). The longest wait was 4 hours. I have never been so happy for a speaker phone in my life, but I wish they would stop with all the ads on the hold music.

  23. Let’s not mention that today, when I try to log in to the web site, I get “! We are experiencing technical difficulties and are temporarily unable to process your request. Please try again later.
    We apologize for this inconvenience.”

  24. DEFINITELY a SH1T merger! UA has DESTROYED Continental.

    These indefinite hold times STINK! Why must one call? Wrong baggage allowances on confirmed reservations? Wrong frequent flyer mileage balances. (Which are STILL NOT corrected, CONTRARY to published AP news stories!)

    Oh, and as for “improved” benefits with the frequent flyer programs? NO WAY! Now we get one (instead of previously) two baggage tags (that someone in baggage handling must collect because they are ALWAYS GETTING LOST very soon into the new year) and *NO* more inflight service (free drink) coupons.

    Plus, the nice (visable) tilt screens are GONE from the backs of the seats forward. Oh, and “economy” flyers? Now CRAMMED into the very back few rows of the aircraft so as to “inspire” passengers to pay more for seating within “premium” (e.g. “extra leg room” economy) sections of the aircraft.

    Yeah, a real merger with a focus on quality and “improved” conditions for flyers and loyal frequent flyer customers.

    Rest assured I will be SHREDDING my *MILLION MILER* card when it finally arrives. I will NEVER fly UAL again! Period! I would sooner go out of my way on a carrier that genuinely DEMONSTRATES VALUE toward their customers.

    Go to HE!!, Jeff Smisek!

  25. Well, XPat, I hope you feel better now. I must advise patience and forebearing on everyone’s part through this merger, which is easier for me because I only fly about 8 times a year, usually up front. I am confident that some things will be worse but some things might be better for us Continental die-hards. But if you walk away from the new United completely, you’ll quickly find out how gbadly the other airlines treat their customers across the board. At least we will have the comfort of our Continental people at our home airports and on our usual routes. My fnext flight isn’t until May and I must admit I’m cringing a little thinking about the “new United”.

  26. Where are the humans working at UA? I don’t believe anyone is there – wait time
    on the 800 number is ridiculous – I attempted to get through, and my password
    is rejected, no clue as to how to get a new one, or to validate the old one.
    All is need is the opportunity to talk to a human.

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