Voice (Non)Recognition: Airline Edition


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One of my family’s favorite video clips features two Scottish comedians trapped in a Voice Recognition Elevator in Scotland. Upon entering the elevator, they notice this new fangled voice recognition technology and try, with increasing desperateness, to activate the elevator. Unfortunately, Voice Recognition software can’t recognize the Scottish brogue and the gentlemen are forced to repeat “Eleven” until the elevator can “learn” the Scottish accent. Any mention of “eleven” in my household results in the three of us dissolving into fits of toddler-like giggles and of course a chorus of “Elevens” from all sides. I will say that I always thought they took a little liberty with the “voice recognition software,” since technology has come a long way, or so I thought….

US Airways Customer Service, New York City, March 2015

Back in March, my father and I were booking flights to Vegas for a Spring conference. I, being unsure, if I would fly out from New York or Boston, decided to wait a couple hours after my Dad booked his flight. This decision apparently was terrible as in the four hours I slept, the fares increased by $500.

Okay plan B: Expedia.

Searching. Searching. Great, I found a reasonable flight via US Airways. I can’t select my seats but I’m sure that won’t be a problem. Panicking that the fare would increase with any extra delay, I ignored this little trinket of information and pressed the “purchase” button. Big Mistake.

I then spent the next 30 minutes on Expedia trying to select a seat. While it did give me “seat reviews”—apparently seat 9A has a moveable armrest and therefore got a positive 5 star rating—it would not actually allow me to select a seat. Instead, I got a wonderful “We are unable to process your request. Please go to AA.com to actually select your seat, you fool.” Okay it didn’t actually say fool, but it was definitely implied.

Okay. I go to AA.com and realize that I might have American Airline miles from back in the day. I reset my password and discover, oh my goodness, I have fifty thousand miles! Maybe I can upgrade? Surely, US Airways first class is akin last row, middle seat in Jet Blue.[1] I then spend another twenty minutes reading through the very handy American Airline charts on how you have accumulated miles, how many different clubs you can long, I mean the list went on and on about all the perks that American Airlines offers. Then, all the way at the very bottom, there is a very nice line that sums up how many miles you can apply to your trip today.

My sum was a grand spanking total of…..zero.

You may be asking, “Aheli, you just said you have 50K miles. Why is your total 0 miles?” Well reader, that is a great question. Apparently, my miles got partitioned into this very exclusive, very prestigious “Million Point Club,” where American took my miles and put them into a mile savings club type account, where I won’t get to use them until I’ve reached a million miles. Then, I will be blessed with a super awesome and totally free Economy ticket to….Detroit.

Okay so slight set back. No matter. I’ll just log into the “My Trips” tab and enter in my confirmation number. Hmmm. Record not found? I re-enter first name, last name, DNA sequences, mother’s favorite type of sushi, nope, nothing. Record cannot be located.

Hmm. Okay. I repeat the process because apparently I hate myself. Same results. Right, now it’s time to talk to an actual human. Erm, okay, a computer trained to sound like a human.


“Hello. Welcome to US Airways. Your monitor may be recorded for better customer harassment training sessions. Please press 101212390128301283 to change your seat. Pressing any other number means canceling your reservation.”

Okay, I press 101212390128301283. [This part may be exaggerated however the rest I swear is true]

“Great I see you would like to assign or change a seat. Before we begin can you please enter your Dividend number. You can also say I don’t have a dividend number.”

” I don’t have a dividend number”

“I’m sorry I could not understand your dividend number. Can you please repeat? You can also say i don’t have a dividend number.”

” I don’t have a dividend number”

“I’m sorry I could not understand your dividend number. Can you please repeat? You can also say I don’t have a dividend number.”

” I don’t have a dividend number”

“I’m sorry I could not understand. Can you please type your dividend number using the key pad. You can also press 1 if you do not have a dividend number.”

Joy- I can press numbers. I press 1. 

“I’m sorry I could not understand your dividend number. I will transfer you to a customer representative [YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAY]. But before we begin, US Airways would like to remind you that hazardous materials are not allow on this flights.”

— At this point, they HAVE to say this because anyone lasting to this point is going insane—

“Please press 1 if you understand”

bleeeeeepppppp. [pressing 1]

“I’m sorry due the increment weather our systems are overrun. Please try again.”

I’m not sure what happened next because I’m pretty sure that I blacked out. I can report that I did get a seat. A very nice seat actually. I had a wonderful flight to Vegas where I overdosed on In’N’Out Burgers. Let’s just say that I have a new appreciation for all those people subjected to any type of voice recognition software.”

[1] I have some major airline loyalty to Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin.


Photo Credit: http://simplymadebyrebecca.com/2015/01/28/free-printable-vintage-plane-art-series-1/

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