These airlines have the longest “hold” times

By | March 17th, 2016

Airlines love to put their customers on “hold,” but some are worst than others. Just ask Robert Pearce, who recently tried to reach United Airlines to cancel a flight.

“We have spent hours on the phone on hold,” he complains. “The incompetence is astounding.”

It turns out United isn’t the worst of ’em. Not by a long shot.

A new survey by GetVoIP suggests Allegiant has the longest average hold time (almost 15 minutes) while Alaska Air, with just over a minute, is the shortest.


“If you’ve ever called an airline customer service line, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of waiting on hold,” says Alex Heinz, a GetVoIP spokesman. But GetVoIP wanted to know exactly how long the hold times were.

Heinz and his team had seen a story written by a well-known consumer advocate in 2011 (ahem) and wanted to conduct a follow-up study that focused entirely on airlines.

Here are the results from the 2011 survey:

Continental Airlines13
Air Canada10
Internal Revenue Service9
Ace Hardware6

OK, this list is laughably outdated. (Continental Airlines no longer exists.) But it is instructive, nonetheless. We can see, for example, that a long “hold” time is anything longer than 10 minutes. Notice, too, how Delta and JetBlue’s hold times have increased while Southwest’s have held steady.

Before we draw any conclusions, two airlines deserve special mention. Delta and Virgin give callers the option to leave their number to receive a call back when a representative is available, according to GetVoIP. That seems like a great option all of these airlines should consider. And given that they are all now highly profitable, maybe it’s the kind of technology they could invest in.

Related story:   Read the fine print very carefully

So why do airlines keep you on hold for that long? Because they can. There are no laws that say a company must answer a call within a certain amount of time. There is no true competition among airlines, either. Don’t like Allegiant’s hold times? You could always switch to Delta and save five minutes. But somehow, being on “hold” for 10 minutes doesn’t sound that appealing.

Maybe these numbers only tell us one thing: Don’t even bother trying to reach an airline by phone, unless you’re flying on Alaska or Hawaiian. (United, notably the legacy carrier with the shortest “hold” time, still generates some pretty impressive anecdotes, like Pearce’s).

Instead, maybe you should fire up your smartphone or tablet and interact with the airline online. You might get faster results.

Are airline "hold" times too long?

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  • Alan Gore

    Before you go, be sure to have your airline’s Twitter address in your contacts list. Because tweets are perceived as appealing o the young, marketing staff loves the system and it is usually your quickest way of getting through.

  • Kerr

    Southwest offers the callback option as well.

  • Jeff W.

    I think airlines have a unique challenge in the number of people to staff the call centers. When things are going well in the system they staff for x. But they probably have some amount of buffer or contingency when a weather event happens. That is when more people are calling and it usually takes more time per call. If the event is bad enough, very long wait times. And most companies, not just airlines, are now right-sized in their staffing. They don’t have extra employees (or outsourced sub-contractors) waiting in the wings.

    So the callback feature is welcome. And the automatic rebooking of others also helps.

    And why did he spend hours on the phone to cancel a flight when you can go online and do it in minutes? Even the UA phone app has some of that. So each airline is investing in technology to eliminate the need to call, each doing it in different ways.

  • Travelnut

    I must say that the times I’ve needed to call American Airlines the past few years, I’ve been impressed. (Admittedly, my bar has been set low for airlines.) Hardly any wait time, native English speakers, and very knowledgeable. In contrast to some other airlines (*cough*United*cough*).

  • Regina Litman

    I can’t for the life of me understand how Twitter, with its abominable 140-character limit, can be a viable way to get customer service!

  • Regina Litman

    And after waiting all that time, I’m connected to someone in a foreign call center who speaks with a foreign accent into a headset and either doesn’t grasp or has a resentment of the U.S. standard of living.

    I would actually be willing to increase my hold time if one of my options would be, press a certain key to be connected to a phone representative based in the U.S. And as someone with aging ears, I’d be willing to wait even longer for someone who has a traditional phone with a receiver he or she can speak into diectly instead of a headset.

  • Laura616

    You can send direct messages or DM’s in twitter language. There is no restriction on characters.

  • Melissa Ballard Jones

    I use twitter, too. It all depends on what you need. They should all have the call back option but since when do the airlines do what’s convenient for their customers?

  • Jeff W.

    Talking to someone with a regular headset will never happen. It is inefficient and is quite uncomfortable if you are on the phone all day — as call center people are.

    Remember these people are also in front of a computer, so they need their hands to use the keyboard. You don’t want them putting down the phone every time they need to look up some info. And holding the phone using their shoulder and head like the old days will cause strain if done day in a day out. Think of the workers comp claims and the costs associated with that. Probably some health & safety and/or OSHA issues.

  • Bill

    Even though I don’t quite qualify as “the young,” I have had tremendous luck communicating with both Southwest and JetBlue for non-emergency customer service via Facebook and Twitter. They are quite responsive and informative.

  • Jeff W.

    True, but she wanted to talk with someone US based and also uses a traditional phone. Hence the OSHA comment.

  • Regina Litman

    I never knew this before! The next time I make one of my rare Twitter appearnces, I’ll have to figure out how to do this. Thanks for the reply and also for spelling out “direct messages”.

  • taxed2themax

    Joe, can you cite where that is addressed? I’ve not heard of that for cases like this– where the consumer is the moving party. Just curious.

  • flutiefan

    Southwest has the “call-back” feature, too, jut FYI. it’s great!

  • cscasi

    “Talking to someone with a regular headset will never happen”
    I think you really meant handset, right?

  • taxed2themax

    “Can’t cite it because I don’t know where it is, and I ain’t gonna look right now.”
    I know that it exists.. my gym for example uses this when they say that notices to ME are deemed delivered when tendered to the USPS, but noticed to THEM are deemed delivered only when signed for an authorized person.. So, I agree that this tends to be more one-sided in terms of application..
    however, I’m not so sure that’s it’s codified under some type of Federal statue, thus in this case, if the OP had just written something and deposited it into the USPS, that then would somehow be deemed as a legally delivered notice. It would be interesting to see how this issue is addressed legally, either at the state level or federal level (if such does in fact exist)

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