February 27, 2021

Bucks Blog: How Airlines Fared in the Hurricane Irene Test

It may take days for air travel in the Northeast to return to normal after Hurricane Irene caused an avalanche of flight cancellations and delays. But it may take even longer for passengers to recover from the sketchy customer service they got from some airlines during the storm.

Passengers who contacted American Airlines on Friday, as the storm approached, had to wait on hold an average of one hour and 32 minutes, according to a survey conducted by StellaService, a company that researches and ranks customer service. That’s right. An average hold time greater than 90 minutes.

What’s more, American never responded to inquiries sent via Twitter, the study said. StellaService’s survey was conducted Friday. The company placed an average of eight phone calls to each of the top 10 airlines from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. American’s performance was the slowest of all the airlines, the survey found.

The survey gives an indication of the frustrations of air travelers trying to rebook canceled flights as the hurricane moved up the Eastern seaboard. A Times article on Tuesday quoted Joe Brancatelli, who publishes a subscription Web site for business travelers, Joesentme.com, as saying he was swamped over the weekend with calls from passengers who were frustrated about not being able to get through to the airlines to make alternative plans.

After American, the survey found that Delta Air Lines was the next slowest at 33 minutes and 43 seconds.

In an e-mail response, an American Airlines spokesman, Patrick Martelle, had this to say, after Bucks forwarded the survey for his review:

“We disagree with the findings of the study. We believe it is highly inaccurate and based on an insufficient sample size – eight calls and 12 tweets on average — that skewed results and does not represent reality. We handled more than 100,000 calls on Friday, and during the period in question our customers waited an average of 21 minutes, far less than alleged and in line with most of our peers. Our response time for AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold customers averaged from 30 seconds to less than three minutes per call. Of the 78 tweets directed to us from Thursday through Sunday, a significant number of which did not request action, we responded to 46 tweets either publicly or privately to assist customers, and we also sent four proactive tweets with travel information related to the storm.

“We believe the publication of such a study without giving us the opportunity to respond is unprofessional and irresponsible. Each day, and especially in times of service disruption, we make responding to and informing our customers — whether through social or other traditional direct channels — our highest priority.”

Jordy Leiser, the chief executive and co-founder of StellaService, defended the validity of the firm’s survey in an e-mail:

“StellaService used random sampling and multiple interactions, including more than 200 engagements via phone and Twitter at multiple times throughout the day, to generate a reliable, representative snapshot of how each airline was handling customer service inquiries during the hours leading up to Hurricane Irene.”

To evaluate the airlines’ customer service performance, he said, the survey sought to have one interaction per hour between 12 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Friday.

The Twitter posts all requested action or asked a specific question, according to StellaService, like “How do I rebook.” For the Twitter data, 12 posts were sent to each airline between midnight and noon E.S.T. on Friday.

Delta Air Lines, meanwhile, responded to 100 percent of the Twitter messages, with an average response time of 14 seconds, the survey said.

The top-ranked airline for responding was U.S. Airways, with an average wait time of 2 minutes and 38 seconds, the survey said.

Did you try to contact American Airlines, or any other airline, on Friday? What was your wait time like?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=decfafedcec66e5ddedb229c0202674a

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