airlineserviceBad weather is not the root of all air travel evil. Bad customer service is. Pay attention United Airlines, you need some help. I started my day with a canceled flight due to bad weather in Chicago, a United hub. I was moved to a flight on Delta, also to Chicago.

Not sure why Delta would have better weather in Chicago than United but I made my daughter run the full mile to the gate anyway. Of course we got there sweaty and out of breath to find that flight had been delayed for hours.

From my experience, I offer these two tips for airline customer service:

1. Train your people

Language is a huge issue. None of the customer service agents I spoke with spoke English as their native language. I took care to explain my situation slowly and thoroughly only to find myself S P E L L I N G everything for clarity.

Asking for a supervisor helps – if you have time to wait. And wait. They do get things done and in many cases are native English speakers. However, there are few of them and are spread thin so they are hard to catch.

2. Don’t speak airline

Those of us who are not in the industry don’t know what you’re talking about if you use airline jargon. Tell us exactly what you need from us to complete a transaction and everything will move along more quickly and smoothly.

My missing link was the definition of “release.” Delta told me that even though I had a confirmation number and a seat, they needed United to “release” my ticket so that they could print boarding passes for me and change future flights if necessary.

Using those words (I specifically asked for the right words to use), I called United and requested they release the tickets. I was assured that was done each of the three times I called. Still, when I got to the Delta fight, I was told the tickets had not been released and I needed to provide ticket numbers.

I called United again, all the while watching passengers board the plane that would take me home. After the usual 10-minute wait, the customer service agent finally “released” the tickets and gave me the ticket numbers so I could go home.

Did I mention that five days later, I still did not have my luggage?  They have it, it just hasn’t been released.  

Rule to Remember: Get a ticket number if you have booked or rebooked a flight over the phone or online. Having a confirmation number is not enough.