Many frequent travelers know the frustration of trying to get information from a chatbot or being on hold for hours to reach a representative. Perhaps the worst of all is finding the perfect price for a popular flight, having the website freeze or crash and then finding that prices changed for a more expensive ticket. (It's never the other way around.)
If it feels like things got a lot worse in the last year, you're definitely not imaging it. With the entire industry and struggling to rehire the people who were laid off during the pandemic, airline customer service is one area where understaffing is mostly strongly felt.
Hold That Flight For 24 Hours, Please
While getting rid of all call centers is extreme, making it easy for travelers to do certain things online is an easy way to bring down the number of calls and consequently, staff needed. Things like moving flight dates, trying to get back a fare spotted online, and following up on a hold are things that are easy to make available online but are sometimes restricted for those traveling on the airline's lowest fare.
For years now, American Airlines (AAL) - Get Free Report has been known to offer customers the chance to hold a fare for 24 hours. So long as the date of the ticket one planned to purchase was more than a week away, customers had the option of locking in the fare they found online and taking one day to mull it over without the risk that prices would increase.
This fall, the airline ran a test in which it got rid of this feature and instead provided customers with the option to instead get a full refund on a flight within 24 hours. The latter is not a "perk" but a requirement by the U.S. Department of Transportation for all airlines traveling in or into the U.S that some will often not advertise to minimize such customer requests.
When customers progress to the airline's "Review and Pay" page, they will see a "hold" option on flights eligible for this feature. Customers who did pay for a ticket will also be able to cancel them online without calling an agent for a full refund regardless of status or fare type.
"We continue to evaluate our product offerings to customers on aa.com and understand customers may need flexibility when booking travel plans," an airline representative told Travel + Leisure.
Here's What's Going on With the Airline Industry These Days
Over the last year, booking flexibility became especially salient for travelers given that covid testing requirements could suddenly uproot one's travel plans.
As both domestic and international restrictions loosened, airlines also started toughening up on cancellations and changes -- some have brought back fees for doing so as a way to bring in profit without doing the one thing that travelers hate even more: raising prices.
"Staffing shortages are still looming as inflation hits every industry," Sarah Jean Callahan of TheStreet wrote on making the best of holiday travel. "Airlines are feeling the sting of low staffing going into their peak season, while passengers are feeling the sting of higher prices for their travel plans all around. It’s not just airline tickets that cost more, it's everything."