customer feedback

How to complain to airlines and hotels

United Airlines is putting the kibosh on calling in with complaints.

Last week the airline confirmed that, come April, it will disconnect the phone line to a foreign call center contracted to field customer compliments and complaints.

Customers with issues to discuss will still be able to call the airline’s general 800-number but, as anyone who’s tried navigating United’s (or any airline’s) automated phone tree knows, the focus there is on selling tickets and tweaking reservations From here on out, even if you get through to a live United Airlines agent, you’ll likely be told to send post-flight comments, good or bad, in old-fashioned letter form or via e-mail.


But why quit answering the phone?

United Airlines spokesperson Robin Urbanski says the company did research on the success of the feedback line and concluded that “people who e-mail or write us are more satisfied with our responses.”

In a tough economy, when keeping every customer you’ve got is more important than ever, United’s move puzzles folks like Zeke Adkins of Luggage Forward, a door-to-door luggage shipping company. “What is unclear to me is how this [research] led United to conclude that eliminating, rather than improving, their call centers would be the best strategic decision.”

Others suspect that as the economy worsens and budgets tighten, live customer-service centers will disappear elsewhere as well. But that’s doesn’t mean well-mannered travelers should stop giving feedback on service. We may just need to learn some new skills – and sharpen some old ones.

For some tips on how to do that, see my column – Don’t bother calling with your travel complaints – on