View from the Wing

Three years ago United Airlines launched ‘agent on demand’ where customers would reach local agents, rather than a call center, when contacting customer service via their mobile device – scan a QR code at a hub, and chat by voice or video to deal with rebooking and other issues.

This is a great feature, especially for the average passenger. It helps get real help faster, and utilizes agents efficiently.

It isn’t great for everyone, though. Passengers are being directed to use these QR codes for customer service instead of agents at the customer service counter – and sometimes even helpful premium agents in United Clubs that members pay to access (and indeed in my experience getting personalized help in the club from top agents has been the main reason to have lounge access in the first place).

Here’s one report from a customer service counter in Denver.

So, my flight was canceled today out of [Denver] and United will not *let* me talk to customer service agents. You read that right.

There are 3 customer service agents behind computers in the CS area, but you are not allowed to talk to them.

The entrance to the lane is blocked off with a sign that says “need assistance? Scan the QR code!”

I stepped past the sign in an effort to talk to the customer service reps and they started screaming at me.

A dragon came over with an iPhone and said I must use the kiosk. I told her that I did, and it flashed red saying “see an agent.”

She told me she was the authority that would decide if I can talk to a rep. After a few minutes of her bumbling around on her iPhone, it became clear she was not equipped to help. I asked her if I could talk to the CS desk and she said NO you must use the the new app feature. I tried that and they were hopelessly confused.

Totally insane to me that United canceled my flight and will not allow me to talk to the [customer service] people..

Now, it’s possible that those agents were servicing other customers via agent on demand! But don’t sit at a customer service counter and refuse to provide service. If they aren’t available, maybe they shouldn’t appear to be?

Another passenger noted a similar situation at Chicago O’Hare recently where staff were “screening people and were determining who could get in line to see a live [customer service] agent versus who should just go to the kiosk.”

  • When check-in kiosks were first introduced, those were ‘optional’ and you could always see an agent
  • Then they were no longer optional
  • Now you can’t just walk up to a customer service agent, either, when the airline cancels your flight.

I guess that’s still better than Frontier Airlines eliminating telephone customer service entirely, or maybe that’s really what United is going for?

We saw this elimination of in-person customer service happen last year at the United Club in Chicago, and other customers have complained about it in clubs, too.

The new United Clubs in Denver and Newark are excellent, but aesthetic isn’t the primary benefit of a lounge. United has a great mobile app. They’re providing a strong service to the occasional flyer. But for a carrier that ostensibly is trying to pursue a premium strategy, this is not that.

Gary Leff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *