Air New Zealand customers complain of hours-long waits on phone

Air New Zealand customers are complaining of hours-long waits to speak to airline staff over the phone, with some saying they were on hold for four hours before giving up.

A customer who preferred not to be named said she made multiple calls to the airline on Thursday after her morning flight from Wellington to Auckland was affected by fog.

“The longest I was on hold was two hours and I basically gave up in the end,” she said. “I traveled out to the airport three times to change flights because it seemed virtually impossible to get through to anyone over the phone.”

The customer said she spent about $110 on Uber rides to the airport as she doesn’t drive or own a car.

Air New Zealand's Facebook page has multiple complaints from customers about long wait times on the phone.

Douglas Bagg/UNSPLASH

Air New Zealand’s Facebook page has multiple complaints from customers about long wait times on the phone.

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“It just seems crazy that they don’t have a better system for managing changing flights. I understand you can’t control the weather, but it seems bizarre that the only way to be able to change flights is to actually go out to the airport, which is costly and inconvenient… I’d hate to think what people who live a great distance from the airport have had to do.”

Air New Zealand’s Facebook page has dozens of messages from customers complaining about being unable to get in touch with the airline, even after waiting hours on hold.

“I have been on the phone for over 4 hours with no one actually taking my call,” one customer said.

“Would be nice if you could have a callback service, or at least an update on the queue,” another said. “It’s getting annoying sitting on hold wondering how many hours before someone is going to answer. Third consecutive day it’s been like this, what gives?”

Another customer said she had been on hold three times in one day for nearly two hours each time and had been cut off on all three occasions.

Air New Zealand contact center senior manager Doug Grant said his team has been exceptionally busy recently, partly because of Omicron-related international schedule changes. Uncertainty about Covid-related travel requirements for overseas destinations is also leading to more – and longer – calls, he said. Covid-related travel rules vary greatly from country to country and can change rapidly.

Air NZ's Doug Grant said many customers want reassurance from an airline staff member that they have met international travel requirements.

Ricky Wilson/Stuff

Air NZ’s Doug Grant said many customers want reassurance from an airline staff member that they have met international travel requirements.

“This week has been by far and away the busiest week of this year,” Grant said. “It really shows me that customers in general are really lacking confidence in travel. What we see driving a large number of our calls, I describe it as saying they’re not really match-fit at the moment for travel.”

The contact center has experienced a big increase in calls since the Government announced New Zealanders do not have to isolate or quarantine upon their return to New Zealand, whether or not they’re fully vaccinated. The airline’s recent announcement that it is set to launch its non-stop New York service in September has also “got people really curious about traveling again”, Grant said.

The contact center has seen a 40 per cent increase in calls in the last week alone, and this week’s call volume is 225 per cent higher than in the same week last year. The average wait time on the phone this week has been 57 minutes, but Grant acknowledged that some customers had to wait a couple of hours.

Grant said “it broke my heart” when he heard about the lengths of the customer who traveled to Wellington Airport three times to sort out her flight had to go to.

In many cases, he said customers can resolve their own issues via the airline’s website or app.

Grant said Air NZ's announcement that it is set to launch its non-stop New York service in September has got many thinking about international travel again.

123RF

Grant said Air NZ’s announcement that it is set to launch its non-stop New York service in September has got many thinking about international travel again.

The airline has received many calls from customers who want to make new bookings using credits – something which can be done easily online.

“Many find it easy to use those credits as a form of payment when they book online. But there are some customers who perceive that to be a complex process and so they call us.”

Grant noted that Air New Zealand’s website also has regularly updated information on the entry requirements for its international destinations. Customers can use an online tool to help them ensure they meet the requirements for their intended destination.

The airline welcomes calls from those who are set to travel imminently and cannot find the solution to their problem, he said. However, he would encourage others to check the information on the website before phoning.

Calls are prioritized, so those with less urgent concerns can expect to wait longer. The contact center does have a callback service, but often turns it off later in the day so customers’ calls are not returned at “unsociable” hours, Grant said.

He asked customers to be patient with the airline while New Zealanders get used to international travel in the era of Covid-19.

“Travel is simply more difficult than it used to be, and I feel like it will take a few months at least for people to experience it firsthand themselves and hopefully see that it’s not as onerous as they thought it was going to be. And then a lot of New Zealanders will share that with their families and say “look, you can actually have confidence to be able to travel again”.

“It’s going to be a bit of a bumpy ride, and I’m confident we’re going to get out of it in the next few months. But I just really ask for our customers’ patience around that.”

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