These airlines have the longest “hold” times

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.

Allegiant 14.41
Delta 9.17
JetBlue 8.3
Southwest 7.23
Frontier 6.07
American 4.22
Virgin 3.46
United 2.24
Hawaiian 1.25
Alaska 1.13

“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 Airlines 13
Air Canada 10
Internal Revenue Service 9
Amtrak 9
AT&T 8
Delta 7
Southwest 7
JetBlue 6
Ace Hardware 6
AARP 5

OK, this list is laughably outdated.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:   "Your advice worked!"

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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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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