I spend hours on the phone each week speaking to different airlines and loyalty programs from around the world. The single most important time-saver: the phonetic alphabet.
I was on the phone last night with Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific) booking an award ticket for a client. These agents tend to be well-trained with a good command of the English language, but unfortunately not last night. It was nearly impossible to comprehend the agent and if it wasn’t for spelling out passenger names with the phonetic alphabet, I’m sure the reservation would have been screwed up.
It’s not just Asia Miles, of course. I use the phonetic alphabet when speaking to any airline. The similarity of certain consonants in the English language makes this essential.
Once I dealt with a Delta agent who thought she was being cute by employing a mnemonic device to a record locator. The code was DHA77P and she said, “You’re code is going to be Diana has a 77 Pinto”
“D-H-A-77-P. You know, like Diana has a 77 Pinto.”
Another time I worked with a Bible-belt US Airways agent from North Carolina who substituted standard phonetic characters for books of the Bible. “Your record locator is Revelation, Jude, Deuteronomy, Numbers, Malachi, the number 4.”
The beauty of the phonetic alphabet is that it is universal, or at least near-universal. If you memorize and use the code below you should have reduced trouble (notice I don’t go so far as to say no trouble!) communicating with any airline reservation agent from around the world:
While agents may make up their own words, they’ll all understand the table above.
Often, dealing with a reservation agent is already difficult enough. Save yourself a little headache by using the codes above to spell out names and record locators. It will Sierra-Alpha-Victor-Echo your Sierra-Alpha-November-India-Tango-Yankee.