Airports jammed, phone lines jammed

by Charlie Leocha on December 30, 2010


This latest bout with the weather on the East Coast has highlighted the problems of running airlines at capacity without factoring in weather as an element. It has also shined a spotlight on airlines’ telephone support operations that were overwhelmed first, with requests for cancellations and changes to avoid the mess, then with passengers stuck at airports looking for a way home.

One friend planning to shift her flight in and out of Boston waited on hold for JetBlue from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. While still waiting on hold on her home phone, she called using her cell phone and eventually got through and changed flights that avoided the Monday Boston snowstorm.

There were no other alternatives, at least with JetBlue. All changes had to go through the 800 number. There was no on-line alternative. Other airline passengers faced the same problems.

Newspaper reports confirmed this phone jam situation. Continental, United, Virgin America, Delta, USAir, American and virtually every other airline were faced with overwhelmed phone jams, even though many brought in twice as many operators to handle the onslaught.

The lucky ones were those who were automatically rebooked and notified by their cell phone of their pending flights. That is, if they were happy with the alternative arrangements that computers generated. Otherwise, there were back on hold in the telephone jam trying to change their already-once-change flight.

Guess it is better that being stuck at an airport surrounded by two feet of snow.

What do you think? Are automatic rescheduling programs with cell phone text message communication the way to go? Or, would you want to be able to handle changes yourself, or through your travel agent.

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  • Frank

    What do you think? Are automatic rescheduling programs with cell phone text message communication the way to go?
    ===================================================

    So, you’re going to leave it up to the airline to decide when you travel? I think this would cause MORE problems then alleviate. Seats held, then upon finding out your rebooking itinerary, you want something else. In this situation, they may have just taken what they were given to get outta town.
    This article highlights the STAFFING LEVELS at airlines. Labor costs are one of the highest costs for an airline, next to fuel. Everywhere you look, it’s minimum staffing on the planes, at the gates, on the phones. All airlines schedule so many people for each day. They know the call volume that they receive daily. There’s no way to schedule for a blizzard except for mandatory overtime and having management work the phones as well.
    The flying public has unrealistic expectations as well. Flights, simply do NOT take off hours or even day/s after a blizzard like this. Crews and planes are stuck all over the place. Legalities exist. The only good thing that the airlines have done is let the flying public reschedule their tickets without penalty. Letting people decide to avoid these storms. Unfortunately, this was the Xmas Holiday travelers, not having much choice.

    Sigh…………and winter has only just began. =(

  • Keith

    With so many people with smartphones now, why aren’t the airlines embracing rescheduling flights online? It seems like a win-win situation to me.

  • http://leftcoastsportsbabe.com Janice

    Airlines are cutting to the bare minimum and using every incentive they can to get people to book direct. This happens more often than the media realizes. Just means more seats available for rebooking by people using travel agents.

  • Robert

    A comment of this nature has been stated here by many over the months and years -

    People booking with a real travel agent (not an on-line agent) get their money’s worth because they can call their agent as opposed to sitting on hold or stanbing in lines at airports for hours on end.

  • Jeff L

    While there is certainly a lot the airlines can do to improve matters (online rebook and confirmation is just one of a number of options), there are ALWAYS going to be situations that are beyond the pale. In this case, its estimated that up to 1 million people may have had their travel plans disrupted between the UK and US if not more. It’s not possible for an airline to have a pre-set contingency plan for this, and airline booking skills are specialized enough that keeping an offshore cloud based call center as a backup is not feasible.

    The flying public has to take some of the blame themselves. By always looking for rock bottom pricing, they have also priced any spare capacity out of the system. The average flight is 84% full or so, which means that for every canceled flight (and I have heard numbers in the 10s of thousands) at BEST it will take the empty seats of 4 planes to get those people to their destination (because some will choose not to travel and extra planes can be used, otherwise 6 planes worth). So, if 10,000 flights were canceled it will take FORTY to SIXTY THOUSAND flights to get them all where they are going, and that will take a while.

  • geekette

    My niece had a ticket from Prague to the US via snowy LHR before Christmas. Booking via a TA was a big part of her problem since BA wouldn’t talk to her, only her agent, and it was the weekend. Yeah, no emergency numbers. I still don’t understand why BA won’t talk to the pax directly (they just blew her off).

    Her parents ended up buying her a new ticket on LOT and is still waiting for the agent to see about getting a refund on her original ticket. Fingers crossed.

    I refuse to cede control of my booking to someone who won’t be there for me. I’ll take the automatic rebooking over that any day.

  • http://www.JudyColbert.com Judy Colbert

    YEARS ago, I was on an American flight from BWI-LAX. It was an early flight and I was asleep before the door was closed. Apparently something happened during take-off because the captain was on the speaker within minutes saying, “Some of you may have noticed we lost an engine.” He didn’t mean one had fallen off, but something blew and the oil (or something) came spewing out. He went on to say we’d be landing at Dulles to take care of things.

    He flew around a little bit, dumping fuel over the northern Virginia countryside, then landed (huge applause), and stopped on the runway while fire engines came to inspect for damage or flames.

    As I walked into the Dulles terminal, I could hear four or five passengers do what I was doing – calling American to be rescheduled, hoping to avoid long lines at the gate station. We were told that we couldn’t be rebooked because our flight was already in the air. We said it was no longer in the air, but they hadn’t heard so nothing could be done.

    American opened nine stations to rebook us (yes, it was a long time ago) and I was on another flight within 50 minutes. As this was now a non-stop and I didn’t have a Dallas layover, I arrived at LAX maybe an hour late. I also received an apologetic letter telling me they’d given me a credit of 10,000 extra miles.

  • J Greene

    “The flying public has to take some of the blame themselves. By always looking for rock bottom pricing, they have also priced any spare capacity out of the system.”
    Not true- this situation is the direct and final result of airline deregulation. What is needed is pricing BY THE AIRLINES THEMSELVES

  • J Greene

    “The flying public has to take some of the blame themselves. By always looking for rock bottom pricing, they have also priced any spare capacity out of the system.”
    Not true- this situation is the direct and final result of airline deregulation. What is needed is pricing BY THE AIRLINES THEMSELVES which truly reflect the cost of reasonable travel. This means prices that are high enough to allow for profit while keeping a certain percentage of seats free during each flight. Of course the airlines will never voluntarily institute this reasonable policy as the short-term minuscule profits are their drink of choice. Our elected officials have embraced free market ideology to such a degree that it’s hurting the very people who elected them. While price fixing is not the remedy, open seat % on every flight would do the trick. Anyone in Washington listening???????

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