When any kind of bad weather, like this week’s winter storm blanketing the U.S. Midwest and Northeast, causes the airlines to ground thousands of flights, airline customer service lines are flooded with calls from passengers desperate to get rebooked. The result? Long wait times and a good chance that your rescheduled flight is less than ideal.
If you want a leg up on the hordes of travelers all trying to get through to the same customer service agents you are, try these seven tricks:
Call the airline’s international customer service line. Travel guru Wendy Perrin suggests this tactic: “The major airlines all have overseas locations where staffers speak English -- in England, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, for example -- and they are just as able to help you as their U.S.-based counterparts, as long as their office is open (not all call centers are open 24 hours) and not dealing with a snowstorm,” says Perrin. Don’t want to pay for a pricey international call? Connect with Skype or Google Voice. Listed below are links to international call centers for a few major airlines, including the three biggest in the U.S. Yours not shown here? Try Googling the airline’s name and “international customer service.”
Call a foreign-language call center, like the Spanish help line. And no, you don’t have to actually habla Español, says mileage warrior Scott Grimmer of MileValue.com. When you call your airline’s customer service number, you’re often asked right at the beginning of the call if you’re a Spanish-speaker. Go ahead and say yes; the lines for Spanish speakers are often shorter. The goal is to get a live person on the phone, because those agents generally speak English as well. A few airlines even have numbers dedicated specifically to foreign language speakers, listed below. You’ll probably have the best luck with lines dedicated to Spanish speakers (rather than, say, Mandarin).
- American Airlines Spanish-speaking: 1-800-633-3711
- American Airlines Mandarin-speaking: 1-800-492-8095
- Southwest Spanish-speaking: 1-800-VAMONOS
- United Airlines Spanish-speaking: 1-800-426-5561
Milk your elite status. Many airlines have a dedicated phone line for elite fliers. Check the back of your frequent flier card for the number. Some airlines will automatically route you to the front of the line if you have elite status, but it’s worth it to know what phone numbers are dedicated specifically for VIP passengers. Some airlines' mobile apps, like Delta's, connect you directly to the elite line with a tap on the screen -- if you are a Medallion-level customer.
Try an alternate, less well-known number. Some airlines have alternate phone numbers for specific purposes that they don’t publicize. Delta, for example, has a toll-free airport help number dedicated specifically for flight rebooking. I tried calling it Monday morning -- during the height of the rebooking rush -- and was patched through to a customer service agent within seconds. Not sure how to find these numbers? Be sure to check two websites dedicated to helping you find company contact information: ContactHelp.com and GetHuman.com.
Get social. This trick was probably more effective when fewer people were on social media sites like Twitter, but it can’t hurt to tweet your airline or leave a Facebook comment. Many staff their social media accounts with customer service reps who are empowered to handle flight changes and reservations, reports USA Today. When the phone lines are jammed, a quick tweet can get you the help you need.
Buy a day pass to an airport lounge. If you’re at the airport already, try to get into an airline's airport lounge, where the agents are less busy. Many airlines, like Delta and United, sell one-time passes for around $50. When everyone is clamoring for access to a gate agent, that could be the best $50 you ever spent. Bonus: You can relax in a less crowded environment, too, as you wait for your next flight.
Contact a higher-up. Thanks to the power of Google, the contact information for company executives, including vice presidents for customer relations, often is available online. Send them an email. A friend of mine did this when her flight to Hawaii was canceled. While everyone else at the airport was scrambling to talk to a customer service agent, she shot off an email to an airline exec whose team responded to her right away -- and got her on the next flight. Executives often have elite service staff dedicated to solving problems quickly, so it can’t hurt to reach out.