American Worst at Answering Phones in Lead Up to Irene

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(Update: Stella Service removed American Airlines from its Twitter assessment after discovering that it had tweeted questions to an inactive Twitter handle. The company also changed United Airlines ranking to reflect United’s assertions that it had addressed the questions via its inactive Continental handle.)

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Hurricane Irene led many airlines to cancel flights over the weekend, but not all of them handled Irene equally.

StellaService, a company that rates customer service quality, ranked the 10 major U.S. airlines based on how they handled a series of calls to their customer services lines and requests for help on Twitter and found that passengers on American Airlines (Stock Quote: AMR) were stuck in the longest telephone holding pattern by far.

The airline had the longest wait time on its customer service line, keeping passengers on hold for an average of 1 hour 32 minutes and 39 seconds. That was almost an hour longer than the next worst airline, Delta (Stock Quote: DAL), which had an average wait time of 33 minutes and 43 seconds.

American also wasn’t responding to Twitter messages, which is an area where Delta actually excelled. The airline answered 100% of customer tweets in an average of 14 minutes.

But it was U.S. Airways (Stock Quote: LCC) that kept the phone lines flowing, answering calls in an average of just two minutes and 38 seconds. The airline was less successfull with its social media support, though: It only responded to 16.7% of tweets. On the bright side, for the tweets U.S. Airways did answer, it only took an average of 24 seconds for customers to get a response.

“Kudos to U.S. Airways for keeping average hold times under three minutes the day before the storm hit,” StellaService wrote in a company blog post. “It’s obvious we have choices when it comes to choosing an airline, and while there are sometimes slight price differences that make us lean one way or another, at the end of the day it’s all about the customer experience.”

American said it disagreed with the survey results and believed that the sample size was too small to paint an accurate picture of their customer service during the measured time period.

"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," a spokesperson said. "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. 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.”

StellaService contacted each airline an average of eight times between 9a.m. EDT to 6:30 p.m. EDT on Friday. Twitter rankings were determined by the airlines’ responses to 12 tweets sent directly to them between midnight and noon on Friday

According to the survey, the average call hold times of the 10 largest airlines during the hurricane were as follows:

  1. U.S. Airways: 00:02:38
  2. Southwest Airlines: 0:08:10
  3. Continental Airlines: 00:08:15
  4. United Airlines: 00:12:04
  5. Spirit Airlines: 00:24:07
  6. Jet Blue: 00:24:17
  7. AirTran: 00:27:52
  8. Frontier Airlines: 00:29:54
  9. Delta: 00:33:43
  10. American Airlines: 01:32:39

In the social media sphere, JetBlue (Stock Quote:  JBLU) also shined, answering 83.3% of tweets in an average of 11 seconds. Frontier Airlines answered 100% of its tweets, but took an average of 4 minutes and 4 seconds to do so. United (Stock Quote:  UAL), like American, did not respond to tweets at all.

StellaService initially said that both United (Stock Quote:  UAL) and American Airlines did not respond to tweets at all. However, it has since changed United Airlines’ Twitter response rate from a 0% to a 58% after discovering that the questions had been posed to a Twitter handle that had been de-activated after United and Continental merged.

"Had we not answered the questions they tweeted to our inactive @continental handle, we would have replied to the questions they tweeted to our active @United handle, just as we replied to more than 200 other customer inquiries on Twitter," a spokesperson for the airline said.

StellaService also removed American from its Twitter rankings for similar reasons.

You can find a complete list of the airlines’ Twitter performance on StellaService’s blog.

StellaService said it stands by all other findings from the study.

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