"Don't Tell Me How to Do My Job!"

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.


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.

ME: What?

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.

ME: Wonderful.

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.


I've talked to Sherri before.

The BA call center presents a paradox. I preach never arguing with the agent, never trying to educate the agent. Just hang up and call back.

But the cell center wait times can be so darned long.

And they close early in the evenings. And if the queue is long enough they won't even add calls in, as the closing time approaches. I can call at 7:30pm and find it's too late to book an award over the phone with BA for the evening, even though they're ostensibly open for another half an hour.

So sometimes you start to think "maybe it would be better to try to convince the agent that I have to work with me, rather than waiting for another agent."

Usually that's a bad idea, but ti's still tempting most of the time.

D October 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Sorry for your awful experience. I got into a minor tiff with an agent a couple of weeks ago, when I called to book a Niki(Air Berlin) award ticket. The agent had never of the airline(and told me she had worked at BA for eleven years, so she should know), and swore up and down that even though I could see the flights on their Avios page (but for some reason could not get the site to book the award, so then needed to call BA), it was not possible for her to book. In the end she put me on hold, came back a few minutes later and had me booked. When I asked her if she liked coming to work and learning something new, she was quite offended and told me that she didn't know how, but this(the award booking) "would come back to bite me". The flight is next week, I guess we'll see.

@Gary: You are certainly right about the catch-22 with BA. I get a kick out of trying to reason with the agents but it is generally futile. But with the long hold times and good chance of finding even in the middle of the afternoon that their circuits are overwhelmed, I at least make an effort to get what I want on my first call.

Judging by how many times I've reached Gary this year and that you've talked to Sherri too, I wonder how many people BA actually employes at this call center. With the long hold times, you have to wonder...

@D: I wonder if you spoke with Sherri! ;)

Here's the thing--I think I know my job too. Heck, I spend hours every day booking award travel and can get awards issued with most airline loyalty programs. But I learn new things all the time and if someone tells me I am wrong, I am going to at least listen.

Del October 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Couldnt you have booked it as 2 one ways on the BA site? Due to their pricing wouldn't the pricing have been the same? Or where you worried about a disconnect so wanted the same ticket number all the way through?

HansGolden October 21, 2012 at 03:02 pm

I called the Australia BA call center one time because the US one was closed (I don't think there're any gaps in time if you call the UK, US, or Australia call centers) and got a very clueless, but very pliable agent. She didn't know the command to pull up partner confirmation numbers, so I just told to type in RL and hit enter. BA uses Amadeus which I know quite well have been an Amadeus TA for a few years. She was very surprised that I knew that command (which she did not know) and she had the presence of mind to check with a supervisor before she ran the command, seeing as it could have done anything as far as she knew. After a supervisor OK'ed the command, she stuck it in and I got my AA record locator. She thanked me profusely for teaching her that command and said, "That's so cool!"

@Del--no. BNE-AKL would not even come up in the search engine--you can see for yourself if you care to look. Instead, a "BA and its partners do not serve this route. Please contact the BA Exec Club Call Centre" message came up.

Del October 21, 2012 at 05:13 pm

Oh I see, shame the website is so glitchy. In general im scared to mouth off to agents lest you get a nasty note in the record, but as this was a new reservation you probably didnt have to worry about that and could give them a piece of your mind. Glad you finally got it in the end!

You should have called back intentionally looking for Sherri and told her my requested flights were booked by a competent agent.

Jeff October 23, 2012 at 12:57 am

@Adrian Haha ya!

Wow! Talk about inept. I have to agree with Gary 100%. Although trying to educate call center agents seems like it's the right thing to do (and would help other people out, too) ... I find that it's typically not worth the effort.

If I can tell I'm not speaking with an agent who knows what they are doing within the first 20-30 seconds of a call...I'll politely tell them I have something I need to take care of, apologize, and call back.

That said, I'd still call back hoping to get a decent agent and ask to speak to a supervisor. If Sherri won't transfer anyone to her supervisor...it's possible they don't know just how inept she is!

Thanks to Stephan on MilePoint for posting a link to this blog post! It was comical and frightening at the same time.

Stephan October 26, 2012 at 01:32 pm

As a follow up, I just want to comment that today I had an excellent experience with Christina who was super efficient, pleasant and had my US-Hawaii flights booked in under ten minutes. One of the best calls I've ever had. Wish some others had been as good! So, if things aren't working out: HUACA! There ARE good, competent people out there!

Julie November 12, 2012 at 07:18 am

I worked as a BA call center agent for several years back in the 90's.
This was in the UK, not JAX, and our centre handled revenue bookings, not awards. This was mostly before the internet took off - BA.com was still in its infancy when I left in 2001.

Still, levels of service varied wildly. We were all given the same six weeks of classroom training but as in every walk of life, there are A students and there are C students.

Most agents liked their jobs and enjoyed learning the intricacies of fares, routings etc and provided excellent service with a positive attitude.
Some did not, and I worked with quite a few Jobsworths, as we called them. "Sir! Sir! That's more than my job's worth, sir!"

The pay was fairly low and once they introduced revenue targets with a decent bonus for making target, some agents decided it wasn't worth taking non-sales calls. A huge percentage of the calls we answered were servicing an existing booking or pricing complicated routings which ultimately came to nothing, and these unscrupulous agents would simply hang up on those callers and move on to the next.

The rest of us ended up taking a disproportionate number of service calls vs sales calls, and also had to deal with the angry people who'd had to wait twice in the call queues!

The few individuals who always smashed their targets this way walked out with substantially bigger paychecks than the rest of us, a source of much discontent and resentment.
The unfairness and unprofessionalism was pointed out to management many times, but of course nothing was done. Various solutions to the problem were offered, too, but were never taken up.

Another factor was that the centre expanded rapidly, and when the salary went down with each wave of new recruits, so did the quality.

There were so many horror stories but my personal favourite is the agent who told a Gold card holder that by taking his booking to his corporate travel agency for ticketing, he was preventing her son from getting new shoes.

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