Aviation Mystery: The Dismal Singapore Airlines Call Center

Great planes, terrible call center.

A post yesterday by Tiffany at One Mile at a Time reminded me of one of the great mysteries of the aviation world. If Singapore Airlines manages one of the best transportation companies on earth (we’re talking, planes, trains, busses, NASA here; SQ is truly top-notch), how do their call centers stink SO BAD?

Tiffany beneficently reminds us all to do our best to help customer service agents when things go awry, but to me, Singapore’s call center seems to be awry much more often than not.

Among several points and miles related jobs I maintain, I work as an award travel consultant at Juicy Miles, where we help find and book award space. This means that I make around eight calls per month to Singapore Airlines, on average. The calls that I would describe as ugly far exceed the calls I would describe as bad, which far exceed the calls that are halfway decent.

My track record of successful call-in outcomes is far better with American Airlines, British Airways, Easyjet, Eurowings, Frontier, jetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United. My business airline of choice, Delta, easily provides 10-fold better call center service to non-elites. Greyhound (the American intercity bus company) is arguably better on the phone.

That poor assessment does not even consider the fact that I might spend anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes waiting on hold to talk to someone at Singapore, EVERY TIME. The hold music that SQ plays is reminiscent of something that might be used to torture political prisoners in a dystopian future fiction film.

That’s a shame, considering Singapore Kris Flyer is one of a few programs that accept transfers from both American Express, which offers generous sign-up bonuses on Platinum and Business cards, and Chase, with its staple Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards.

(For more information on cards like these, click here).

In Tiffany’s case, she waited to talk to the same apparently ignorant agent not once, but three nightmarish times. The agent, who is called Roger, seems unwilling to do anything helpful, including write down a phone number:

“Roger (after 90 seconds): Thank you for holding Ma’am. I can have someone call you back within two hours.
Me (resigned): I really am okay with holding for two hours if needed.
Roger: I will take your number, and they will call.
Me: Alright, it’s a US number: 123-456-7890
Roger: Okay, so 12-344-56-780″

Tiffany’s request was fairly straightforward. She had booked a reward flight, and wanted to change one leg to another open flight she found on the airline’s website.

One thing that really resonated with me is when Roger repeatedly misinterprets her basic request, to move a flight from Beijing to Shanghai, and asks where she would like to go instead of Sydney.

“Me: I’m trying to change an award ticket, can I give you the record locator please?
Roger: Okay, yes.
Me: It’s [   ], and I only need to change the return.
Roger: Okay, the flight now is Beijing to Sydney and return, yes?
So far so good!
Me: Yes, and I need to change the date of the return, and instead of Beijing the return will be to Shanghai.
Roger: Okay, so where do you want to go instead of Sydney?
Me: Oh, sorry, the outbound flights to Sydney are perfect, we just need to change the return.
Roger: Yes ma’am, so instead of Sydney, you want what?

This is total deja vu.  A different version of this exact interaction happens at least half the times I call Singapore.

Our second universal experience: Roger tells Tiffany that the award space appearing on Singapore’s website is not available through the call center.

This is something I’ve been told by many a Singapore Airlines call center agent. This is absolutely untrue.

(Of course, if we were talking inventories on partner airlines, this is not the case. Partners often release strangely specific quantities of seats to different partners at different times. This can be difficult to navigate.)

How do I know this is untrue? Because I call back and, less than an hour later, talk to another agent who sees plenty of inventory on the same flight. This has happened more times than I can count.

At one point in Tiffany’s interaction, the agent clearly told her that there was no availability without even taking time to check. Such laziness I’ve encountered so many times:

“Me: Huh. Are the segments individually available at the saver level?
Roger (responding too quickly to have actually checked): No, only waitlist.
Me: Okay, thanks for adding it to the waitlist, have a great day!”

This appears to be an issue with either Singapore’s in-house reservations system, their training program, or both. Regardless, for an airline charging fare premiums on just about every route they fly, this is mind-blowingly dismal.

Like Tiffany, I have been told (several times) that there are “no supervisors” at Singapore Airlines. Perhaps — unlike Roger’s other replies — this is true. After spending all too much of the past year in never-ending conversations just like this one, I’m inclined to think Singapore’s call center agents are volunteers, biding their time at home.

Every time I have to call Singapore, it leaves me with a further tainted image of the airline.

The in-flight service and amenities on Singapore are second to very few, and many of my clients have raved about their vacations on Singapore. But the prospect of having to deal with this circus of call center agents in the middle of a business trip is too much. I’ll fly Delta. Or United. Or Lufthansa. Or Norwegian. Anyone, really, to avoid this time-wasting mess.

 

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Comments

  1. Do you know which other airkines have the same exact issues? Qatar and Emirates.

    This is obviously an issue of government owned airlines that aim to have a prestigious image of luxury, but don’t care at all about customers.

  2. It has little to do with SQ not caring about cusyomets. Singapore is a very expensive location and it’s very difficult to find and keep good customer service staff in the city. Other local businesses have similar issues.
    They’d have to outsource the service to a different location/country, which they probably can’t/won’t do as a government-linked business…
    Add to that a thick rule book and zero empowerment for ground/call center staff, and you get the service mess you experience…
    Having lived in SIN, I have given up on the call center… If I can’t do it online, I’ll fly a different airline…

  3. Curiously I have had multiple interactions with their call centre recently and all have been fine – including getting them to put a Turkish itinerary on hold which multiple FT data points said couldn’t be done

    I live in Singapore and call from a Singapore phone though – not sure if I am getting better agents because of that?! They seem to be offshore though

  4. I’ve faced the same issue where their website shows award availability, but the call center says it’s not available. The reason I had to book the call center was to book an award flight with a stop over which is not possible online. I had to call their call center and go through this annoyance so many times.

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