You probably have received a few emails from the airlines apologizing that it has been challenging for many passengers to contact them due to jam-packed phone lines, leading to disconnects or before getting a human at the other end waiting for hours.
The latest email with a Finnish flavor came from Finnair. The airline tries to convey what they have done to resolve the issue with rebookings, busy phone lines, and refunds. There is an interesting tidbit that roughly 12% of the passengers previously needed to consult customer service when that is now 50%.
You can access Finnair here.
Here’s the message:
I am Ole Orvér, Finnair chief commercial officer, and I am writing to you to apologise for the heavy congestion in our customer service channels during the past couple of months. You may have had to wait a long time to get through to our customer service agents, and also our online Manage Booking service has not worked as it should have due to technical issues. I am sorry about that and all the inconvenience and frustration it may have caused you.
As the pandemic situation has evolved and travel restrictions have continued to change, contacts to our customer service have doubled over the past two months. We naturally expected an increase in customer contacts once travel started to recover but were not able to forecast the impacts of the omicron variant: before the pandemic some 12% of customers typically contacted our customer service at some point of their journey, and now the number has been around 50%, with booking changes being the most frequent reason for contacting us. Unfortunately, we were not able to scale up resources as fast as we should have, and omicron has also caused sick leaves in customer service.
Solving this situation and delivering better customer service to you is our priority:
• We have recruited new customer service agents together with our partners, and some 50 new agents are joining our teams in January ready to serve you with your travel needs. All new agents undergo a two-month training before they start working in our customer service.
• We have tripled the number of developers working with our online service channels. Already now, more than 6 out of 10 customers can make changes to their booking online, and that share will soon increase.
• We have established a fast track in our phone and chat services for customers whose flight is within the next three days, to be able to prioritise the most urgent questions.
• We have trained our Sisu chatbot to handle many new types of contacts, and it is often the fastest way to get information on Finnair products, services and other necessary travel information. Through Sisu you can now also cancel your reservation and then continue to apply for a refund online.
• Due to the omicron related sick leaves at Finnair and in our partners’ teams and to avoid last minute cancellations as much as possible, we have taken action to cut approximately 20% of our flights in February, mostly on routes where we have several daily services and can offer you a new flight option. If the new flight is not suitable for you or no option is available, you can apply for a refund. Our average refund handling time is currently 14–21 days, and we work hard to shorten it. Once we have handled your request, you will receive an email confirmation on it.
The pandemic has brought many challenges for air travel, but we are determined to solve them one by one. I want to thank you of your patience in this challenging situation and can assure you that we are determined to provide a better service to you in the future.
With kind regards,
Over the past couple of months I have needed to call/contact airlines four times:
1. I decided to cancel AA awards
You could cancel the awards online, but guess what? Neither the miles were redeposited to my account nor taxes/fees refunded.
Luckily, I still have an EXP status from a Hyatt promo a couple of years back (I also have lifetime Platinum) and could get through to reservations without much of a wait.
2. British Airways Award Cancellation & Certificate
I had one Finnair award issued using Avios and decided to cancel it. Unfortunately, BA’s online system would only allow me to get a certificate when this should be a straight and straightforward refund. Also, I had some upgrade certificates expiring that I wanted to extend.
I called the BA GGL number and got through almost instantaneously. The call took less than ten minutes, and we got everything done.
3. Finnair Flight Cancellation & I decided To Drop One Segment
I got hit with an Omicron couple of weeks back (more of that later), and I had to cancel a flight. There had been a flight cancellation, and I had been moved to an earlier flight. I had never approved this.
I had to call Finnair and got through to the Platinum (remember the “status” sale last year – read more here) almost instantly. The agent was able to refund the points and taxes swiftly.
There was a BCN-HEL flight cancellation for April (Finnair dropped one of the daily flights) and I wanted to refund this.
I decided to try the Platinum/Lumo WhatsApp chat that worked well. I had the canceled segment removed from the PNR, and I had to chat again after taking the outbound.
Airlines, pre and during the pandemic, failed to prop up their websites and apps to allow customers to do most transactions without human interaction.
They also laid off a significant number of customer service and other personnel. As a result, they suddenly could not meet the demand from consumers calling to rebook their flights or apply for refunds.
I have already volunteered that I book most of my complicated and business class tickets through a travel agent that knows what they are doing, and I pay a fee for this. When there are schedule changes, cancellations, refunds, or rebookings, the agent can usually deal with this directly through the GDS’ without picking up the phone.
Looking at the four cases above, they are all clear cut, and respective websites should have been able to deal with the issues (refunds) without engaging someone over a phone or chat.