Testing airline response times and accuracy to question submitted online

A couple of weeks ago I decided to pose the same question to a number of airlines to see how quickly & accurately they would respond with an answer. While many airlines don’t publish an email for general questions, they do have online forms available to reach customer service or other departments with questions. I created a new identity and email address and asked the following question:

The published minimum connection times often vary based on arriving carrier and departing carrier, and each airline stores this information in their reservations systems. Alternatively, other services such as ExpertFlyer have access to various GDS systems that house this information and make it available on their subscription sites. Also, I was hoping the obviousness of flying in on Air Tahiti Nui would be enough information for the person to realize I’d be coming off an international flight and continuing domestically. So, I was anticipating a response of 90 minutes up to two hours (as researched and confirmed to be correct) and waited patiently for the answers to come in. Here’s a quick chart with the results and more detail for each carrier below.

Alaska Airlines: I received a fairly standard auto-reply acknowledging receipt of my question advising they would get back to me as soon as possible & further noting “some issues require a more thorough review and may take up to 30 days for a response.” 13 days later I get an answer telling me to call reservations as “connection time varies on the cities you are flying from and to.” Due to the incredible amount of elapsed time and lack of answer, Alaska gets an F. [Update: Via a helpful Twitter recommendation, I did retest just now using their “Ask Jenn” automated avatar feature and she responded with the recommendation to contact reservations along with a link for airport arrival times. Score here is a ‘B’ as my question was sort of answered, but sort of not. Cool feature, though!]

American Airlines: After submitting the form, I honestly don’t remember if it provided a response time estimation and there was no auto-reply email. However, two hours later I had an email back advising to call reservations who would be able to determine the minimum connection time. I was impressed with the speed of the reply, but not so much in the lack of an answer, so American gets a C.

Continental Airlines: I received an auto-reply three days after submitting the question online stating, “your message has been received and will be directed to a member of our Electronic Support team for review and research.” Two days later I got another email from them asking for “the name of the carrier you will be connecting to in Los Angeles.” I’m incredibly certain I overwrote (carrier) with Continental, so this baffled me. I replied back right away and finally after a total of 11 days received the answer “you will need at least 90 minutes for your connection.” Correct answer, but a lengthy back & forth only earns Continental a C.

Delta Air Lines: Again no auto-reply was sent, but I was very happy in that 9 hours later an email landed in my inbox stating, “the minimum connecting time required at Los Angeles International Airport, arriving from an international flight and departing on a domestic flight, is 90 minutes.” Well done, Delta… your A is well deserved.

JetBlue: An auto-reply was sent stating, “The fastest way to get answers to your questions is to search our online Help section found on JetBlue.com.” It went on, “If you can’t find the schedule information you’re looking for you can reply to this message or call us…” Since I wanted to continue my email test, I replied back and received a new auto-reply mentioning I could expect to hear back from them within 7 – 10 days. Two days after my initial inquiry they emailed back “we ask that you allow four hours in between your international flight and domestic flight in order to clear customs and retrieve your bag.” Wow, four hours, but they were fairly quick and earn a B.

Southwest Airlines: The auto-reply here stated I would receive a personal response within five business days and should my travel be within the next seven days to call the carrier directly. On the sixth day, I received an email stating, “Suggested airport arrival times are different from city to city. The times are approximate and may vary during busy travel periods. Please visit southwest.com and link to ‘Suggested Airport Arrival Times,’ which provides information for each airport Southwest serves based on the day of the week.” The link is actually just called ‘Airport Info’ and shows 1.5 hours Mon-Thu and 2 hours Fri-Sun for LAX. Even though it provides a timeframe, it’s my opinion that they didn’t answer and/or misunderstood my question, so I’m giving Southwest a D.

United Airlines: Here the auto-reply mentioned the current response time is 10 days and offered links to the website and provided the telephone number for reservations. After six days passed, an incredibly generic response was sent advising I should contact United Reservations “where specialists who have the expertise to assist you with current or future date domestic and international travel plans are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” I won’t fail United like I did Alaska since they at least respond earlier than expected, but with no answer I’m giving them a D.

US Airways: Here I was advised the Customer Relations team would respond to me in 4 – 6 business days and after only three days, their next email stated, “in order to determine a connection time you will need to contact the Reservation Department.” They responded faster than their stated window, although didn’t answer the question, so I’ll give US Airways a C.

So there you have it. Delta came out the clear winner with Alaska failing the challenge via email (kudos for “Ask Jenn,” though), especially for responding so very late to a question that wouldn’t need “up to 30 days” for research. Most people would pick up the phone and call, yes, but I was curious to see the current state of affairs for electronic communication and it clearly shows most airlines have an immense amount of room for improvement. It’s also likely this is an area outsourced to offshore workers and perhaps a question like this got “lost in translation.”

Comments

  1. Nice analysis Darren.

    Timely for me, as I have an international to domestic connection at LAX on my upcoming V Australia trip. Delta ticket, but departing on Alaska (for now).

    Thanks for doing it.

  2. Darren – Glad to hear we passed with flying colors! Thanks for including us. We would love to share this success with the agent who responded. Could you email additional details, so that we may follow up with them?

    Thanks again,
    Susan Elliott

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