An American Airlines passenger grew so frustrated with the carrier’s customer service line that he drove 45 minutes to choose his seats in person, after spending nearly four hours on hold.
Brain Driver needed to rebook his flight home after a business trip to Denver ended early, The Wall Street Journal reported. He initially tried to change his flight using the airline’s mobile and website but was unable to. He then called the airline’s customer service line but was given a callback time of eight hours, per the Journal.
Eventually, he was able to speak to a “helpful agent” via the airline’s chat platform, according to the publication.
The driver called the airline again the following day after having difficulty choosing his seats on the new flight but was told to try again as the lines were busy, per the Journal. When he tried again the next morning he spent three hours and 45 minutes on hold, eventually growing so frustrated that he drove 45 minutes to book the seats over the ticket counter at Denver International airport.
“This has been by far the worst airline call center experience I’ve ever had,” Driver told the journal.
Driver’s predicament is a microcosm of the travel frustration faced by passengers this summer amid a spate of flight delays and cancellations as airlines struggle to cope with rising travel demand and passenger numbers.
In what is increasingly becoming the norm, US carriers collectively cancelled at least 35,000 flights between the day of Driver’s first call on June 16 and the end of the Juneteenth long weekend.
There’s no singular issue, but ongoing staff shortages across the industry, exacerbated by mass layoffs during the pandemic, have left the aviation system with little slack to cope with disruptions caused by poor weather, technical glitches that arise, or high passenger demand.
The result has been long queues at airports as airlines readjust their flight schedules to minimize the disruption.
Airlines had promised to address the staffing shortages within customer service centers that left customers facing hold times of up to 12 hours in some cases as travel peaked last summer, per the Wall Street Journal.
A spokesperson for American Airlines told the Journal that weather and air traffic control issues were behind the long mid-June hold times, the highest it has seen over the past several weeks.
“These challenges, combined with an anomaly in this customer’s booking, resulted in an experience that did not meet what we aim to deliver for our customers,” they said, in a statement to the newspaper. The spokesperson said hold times are currently “significantly lower” compared with the middle of the month.