The Automated Phone System: Mankind’s Worst Invention


The first step in booking an American Airlines flight is to put the ticket on hold for 3 days. Resist the temptation to book right away as buyer’s remorse and life may happen between the day you found that precious flight and the grace period American gives you to pay for the ticket. If you do confirm with a credit card right away, understand that you cannot make changes without a fee unless you have status. There is no 24 hour cancellation rule. I learned that one the harder way and had to beg, plead, and then call AA Singapore to have them cancel my flight at no charge.

The issue with not booking right away is that you have to call American back and deal with the automated phone system. This terrible invention is not unique to AA; every bank, hotel, customer service, or sex hotline uses it to facilitate transactions. In the old days, I was told to press ‘1’ for flight information, ‘2’ for flight reservations, and ‘3’ for award bookings. The one that I’m waiting for is the outlier, ‘9’ to speak to a customer service representative. But before I haphazardly pressed ‘9’ or some other random number, I needed to listen to the entire announcement since ‘our menu options have recently changed,’ lest I hear ‘I’m sorry I do not recognize that selection. Please listen to the following menu options before making your selection.’

Over the years, the automated system has advanced, going from pounding buttons on a keypad to speaking to a robot who sounds so much like a human that I am often tricked by his voice.

Agent: Hello, Alexander…

Me: Oh hi…


Agent: In a few words please tell me what you are calling about, you can say flight information, reservations…


Me: God damn it! 

Agent: I’m sorry I didn’t get that. Please tell me what you are calling about, you can say flight information, reservations…

Me: Mother fu*@r. I hate you. 

Agent: I still didn’t get that. Let’s try this a different way. Please press 1 for…

Of course, the times I do try to be patient and use the voice recognition system it never works. One of two things happens, both of which are equally as frustrating.

Agent: Hello Alexander 

Me: Hi Mr. Computer 

Agent: In a few words please tell me what you are calling about, you can say flight information, reservations…

Me: Awards reservation 

Agent: Please hold while I connect you. 


Agent: Thank you for calling American Airlines. 

quickly taking it off of speaker phone 

Agent: We apologize for the delay…

Me: You tricked me again! You son of a…

back to speakerphone

Agent: Thank you for calling American Airlines. 

hesitantly taking it off of speaker phone 

Agent: American Airlines? How can I help you, hello? 

Me: Hello, hello, hello! (thinking: please don’t hang up, please don’t hang up)

Agent: How can I help you? 

Me: Yes, I would like to ticket my award booking. 

Agent: Oh this is for an awards reservation? Please hold while I transfer you to the AAdvantage desk. 

holding again 

Agent: Thank you for calling American Airlines….

Me: (thinking) Agent or automated, agent or automated…

Sound familiar? This brings me to the second, more frustrating defect in the automated system and something that I cannot figure out. Do you have to wait for the fake agent to be done listing all the options of what you can choose before you make your selection i.e., can you interrupt him? Every time I do interrupt him, he says he didn’t understand. So I wait for his speech to be done and if I’m on speaker phone he will think he heard something in the background and say he still didn’t get that and then he will repeat the entire list of menu options again. This terrible cycle continues forever until finally I’m connected to who knows where.

The automated phone system was put into place as a money-saving tool for practical and nefarious purposes.

Practical purpose: Institutions do not have to pay for more agents because the automated system should be able to provide the customer with answers without speaking to an agent.

Nefarious purpose: I’d rather just pay the extra $8 of data roaming than deal with weaving my way through Sprint’s automated system.

Nefarious purpose: The customer won’t be able to confirm his award ticket because he will never get through the system. Rather than wait on hold, we will call you back between now and when hell freezes over.

How else can you explain why I have to go through this misery every time. I used to try to game my away around the system by pressing # over and over. That used to get me connected to an agent right away. Now, if you try this strategy, chances are you will hear the following: I’m sorry I did not understand your reply, please call back at a later time.


You'll never escape the blizzard thanks to the automated phone system
You’ll never escape the blizzard thanks to the automated phone system


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