Every airline call center is unique in its own way. US Airways’ agents are geographically ignorant. Delta agents have great trouble searching for partner award space. You can always tell whether you are speaking to an ex-Continental agent or a legacy United agent by whether they say “thank you for calling United Airlines” at the end of the call. Alaska agents tend to be sharp, but work slowly. Then there is British Airways, the worst of the call centers.
The British Airways Executive Club call center is in Jacksonville, Florida and it would not be far-fetched to speculate that some of these agents transferred over from the Federal Correctional Institute in nearby Jessup. And I do mean the ones wearing orange.
Now to be fair, I have had some very good interactions with the BA call center, but I am not exaggerating when I say they are few and far between. Take Thursday, for example. Whether BA is throwing a tantrum over Qantas’ new partnership with Emirates or it is just an innocent computer glitch, when searching online for a Sydney-Auckland award for a client, only LAN Peru (which flies the route) was offered as a partner choice, not Qantas. This despite there being plentiful inventory on Qantas metal according to their own website (which always matches what is available to other OneWorld partners). My client had chosen a Sydney-Brisbane-Auckland routing to cut down on layover time in Sydney and so I was forced to pick up the phone and call BA. When searching for Brisbane-Auckland online, I received an error message that neither BA nor its partners flew that route. Right…
A woman named Sherri answered the phone. I explained to her what I was trying to do and she was immediately argumentative:
SHERRI: You don’t be looking at other sites for award space. You can’t see what we have. Only I can.
ME: Actually I can, but that is not the point. I wish to book three tickets on Qantas XXX from Sydney to Brisbane leaving at 14:05 and connecting to flight YYY from Brisbane to Auckland at 17:35.
SHERRI: Just a moment. We’ll see what my computer gives me…Here, I can give you a non-stop flight leaving at 7:35p.
ME: Thanks, I saw that too—
SHERRI: How you see that? You can’t see our space!
ME: I saw that too, but I want the earlier departure via Brisbane as I specified.
SHERRI: Well, the computer don’t give it to me and I gotta go by what the computer say.
ME: That’s ridiculous. With the new Avios program each flight is charged per segment, so you can put in whatever flights you want. Please search point to point.
SHERRI: No. No. No. I gotta put in your starting point and your ending point and if my computer don’t come back with what you want, it is IMPOSSIBLE to book it.
ME: I am sorry, you are incorrect.
SHERRI: SIR, DON’T TELL ME HOW TO DO MY JOB. I BE DOING IT FOR 15 YEARS!
ME: Well Sherri, apparently you haven’t learned enough. Kindly transfer me to your supervisor.
SHERRI: I will not, I will not , I will not. I know the rules and I know my job and you is not allowed to have that routing.
ME: You are wrong. Transfer me now please.
SHERRI: Sir, I will not.
ME: Transfer me now please, Sherri.
SHERRI: No sir, no sir, no sir. I will not. You are wrong and I know my job. I won’t waste the time of the supervisor.
ME: Then book the flights I want. Put them in and see what the computer charges. It will be 4.5K Avios + 10K Avios.
SHERRI: Sir, how many times do I have to say you cannot have that routing?
ME: Why are you being so stubborn?
SHERRI: I aint stubborn. I just know my job.
ME: I need you to book me the flights I want or transfer me to a Supervisor immediately. I am sick of this.
SHERRI: Sir, I will not. I know my rules and you are wrong.
ME: Okay Sherri, you can transfer me to a supervisor now or hang up on me. What’s it going to be?
SHERRI: I’m gonna put you on hold.
SHERRI: I’m gonna put you on hold.
ME: Why can’t you just book the tickets as I want?
SHERRI: I’m putting you on hold sir.
She put me on hold, so I put her on hold and called BA back. She eventually hung up on me…
The next agent, named Jeff—
ME: I’d like to book an award on Qantas from Sydney to Auckland but was having trouble doing so on the website.
JEFF: Qantas is no longer a partner. I don’t think we can book them anymore. Hold on, let me check.
*click* (I hung up)
I called again, and guess who answered?
SHERRI: British Airways, this is Sherri.
ME (laughing): Sherri, you hung up on me!
SHERRI: I come back on and you wasn’t there, so I hung up.
ME: Look, can you please just check with a supervisor? I promise you that you are mistaken.
SHERRI: I will not. I know my job, sir, and you are wrong.
ME (sighing): Even if you hang up on me again, can you please just check for your own clarification? I don’t want you wasting my time and others in the future.
SHERRI: I aint wasting your time. I told you what the rules are and I cannot book that flight. I aint going to waste my supervisor's time.
ME: Please transfer me to a supervisor.
SHERRI: I’m putting you back on hold.
So she put me on hold and I put her on hold and called back again. I got a guy named Gary that I have booked over a half dozen tickets with this year. Heck, I am just going to ask for him directly next time. He booked the ticket in two minutes and waived the call center fee…
I love my award booking business, but sometimes I just have to wonder if it is worthwhile. With agents like Sherri a rather common occurrence at BA, I really wish BA’s website was stronger or the airline would provide its call center agents rudimentary training on how to book an award ticket.