Need to know
- We conducted a nine-day test of Qantas and Virgin call wait times, with Qantas the clear loser
- The average wait time for Qantas was almost 40 minutes (and more than 50 if you call after midday)
- We’re calling for minimum customer service standards through a mandatory industry code
Qantas customers listening to the jaunty strains of interminable hold music as they try to sort out flight cancellations during a COVID-19 lockdown could be forgiven for wondering why the airline hasn't put more resources into customer service.
After all, the tax-funded government bailout package for Qantas now stands at about $1.5 billion. Amid the biggest travel disruption event in recent history, couldn't more of our dollars have been put towards customer support?
'Their on-hold music was torture'
As one respondent to our March 2021 travel cancellation survey puts it, "they really, really need to improve their customer service. I can't understand why they didn't use some of the staff that were stood down to help process the thousands of cancellations."
Another Qantas customer tells us, "phone calls were impossible, as wait times were in excess of two hours, after which we were cut off more than once."
Travellers shouldn't have to wait for excessive periods on the phone… especially when finding out information can be urgentAlison Elliott, CHOICE head of policy and government relations
For some, staying on the line is the least worst option. "Listening to their on-hold music was torture," one person tells us. "I'm sure it's to make people hang up rather than hold."
"Having plans cancelled or changed can be stressful enough," says CHOICE head of policy and government relations Alison Elliott.
"Travellers shouldn't have to wait for excessive periods on the phone to be able to talk to someone, especially when finding out information can be urgent at times due to impending flight departures."
40 minutes on hold
Call wait times for Qantas may be shorter these days than they were at the height of the first lockdown in 2020, but they're still pretty long.
A Qantas customer who contacted us in early September 2021 says, "the service we've received in recent months from Qantas's telephone customer call centre has been nothing short of horrendous".
The average wait time for Qantas was 39 minutes 37 seconds (and more than 50 minutes if you call after midday).
How we tested wait times
From 9 to 18 August this year, CHOICE conducted a nine-day test of Qantas and Virgin wait times, calling both airlines at designated times four times a day.
It was a nine-day stretch without any announcements of flight issues at the major hubs of Sydney or Melbourne. Our callers quickly got off the phone once the calls were answered to avoid prolonging wait times for other callers.
Qantas vs Virgin
The average wait time for Qantas was 39 minutes 37 seconds (and more than 50 minutes if you call after midday) and for Virgin it was 7 minutes 2 seconds. Granted, Qantas is probably getting more calls than Virgin due to its greater market share, but a 40-minute average is still nothing to be proud of.
And, of course, Virgin went into administration from April to November 2020. (It's now owned by the investment firm Bain Capital.)
Best and worst times to call
Aside from confirming what many of us already knew – that calling Qantas means settling in for a good long wait – our test also gave a rough indicator of the best times to call both airlines, as shown in the graphics above and below.
With Qantas, the earlier in the day you call, the less you'll have to wait. The average wait time at 9:00am was six minutes across the nine days of calls, while the average wait times at noon and 5:00pm were 52 and 66 minutes, respectively.
With Qantas, the earlier in the day you call, the less you'll have to wait… It's a whole different story with Virgin
As far as days of the week go for Qantas, our callers waited the longest on Mondays and Fridays, where average wait times were 66 and 63 minutes.
It was a whole different story with Virgin. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are the best days to call, with average wait times a mere one minute throughout the day. Mondays should be avoided, however, where average wait times were 30 minutes.
Why we're calling for minimum standards
"CHOICE has advocated for minimum customer service standards across airlines and other sectors through a mandatory industry code," Elliott says.
"Given travel plans will continue to face uncertainty into the future, a code would set an important benchmark of expected customer service that would help improve the experience of travellers."