If at first you don’t succeed, call, call again


Airline rules are complicated enough that even most frequent flyers have a hard time keeping track of them. However, even many airline employees can’t keep track of them.

As travel issues go, this one didn’t sound too difficult, in theory. A 1K client discovered he had a United Airlines upgrade expiring soon, and his son had a flight that night, so he was thinking of using it.

Understand, United’s rules and systems have changed considerably in 2012 with its Continental merger and there have been issues with same-day upgrades. So, I called United’s premier desk at around noon and asked if it might be possible to waitlist an upgrade for the flight.

The first agent thought that a same-day upgrade might have to be done on a standby basis at the airport. But she checked, and said there actually was a seat in the upgradeable class of service and she could confirm it.

The client hadn’t said they definitely wanted to use it, so I had to say I would call right back. The United agent warned me the space could sell out and to find out as soon as I could.

After a quick confirmation to go ahead, I called back within five minutes with the same request. This new agent also found the seat available, but after a couple minutes said, “Sorry, I can’t do it.” I asked what the problem was and he said that we had booked the wrong class of service, that it had to be at least W class for United’s Premium Service to JFK.

As someone who works with United Airlines and Premier level flyers a great deal, I know the rules pretty well. The class of service rule applies to international flights, but not domestic. I tried nicely to explain it to the agent. I even went to the website to double check. No dice.

So I finally thanked him for trying and called back 30 seconds later. This new agent immediately asked if we had more than three hours until departure (we did) and then simply requested the locator, father’s mileage number and PIN. In a few minutes, presto! — the business class seat was confirmed.

Repeat calling isn’t something I recommend when you KNOW you are in the wrong, although a second call can’t hurt when you are asking for a reasonable favor. But, in my experience when you find someone who starts out telling you incorrect information, they don’t tend to change their minds; even when, as in this case, I asked the agent to check their website.

A cardinal rule when calling more than once is — BE NICE!  There is nothing to be gained by antagonizing someone on the phone. It doesn’t just waste time, they can document the record with comments, thereby decreasing your chances in the future.

What I do recommend, if faced with a brick wall, is be polite and say thanks. Then get off the phone as soon as you realize that it’s futile and try again. To a point. I’m not recommending calling a dozen times.

Every situation is different. But, the second or third call for help can be the charm.

  • http://twitter.com/lille137 Everything French

    Great advice…I have found out that to be polite but firm is the best way.

  • AirlineEmployee

    I just used this advice when I called Hilton. I needed a hotel room at an airline staff discount. It had to be booked on the web only but I couldn’t get past a special code that I needed. The Hilton reservationist was nice but not willing to get or give me the code. More or less telling me I had to figure it out on my own.
    Called back an hour later and got a very nice agent. Explained what was happening and she dutifully checked in various places but no luck. She then connected me to Hilton’s web support and the guy was extremely nice, understood the problem and booked it for me. I stayed with the issue, stayed calm and friendly and got what I needed (legally).
    This is a true lesson I’ve learned from FLYERTALK.com…….thanks.

  • DCTA

    LOL!!! I’ve been doing the, “What?! Sorry, I can’t hear you I’ll call back” routine for years!!!!

  • Anonymous

    It works if they haven’t documented the record with an answer you didn’t want.

  • Chris Courtis

    I really should follow that advice myself I often find when a call is not going as planned I can get annoyed. I will try to think back to this the next time.