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Alaska Airlines begins customer service via text message

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Alaska Airlines begins customer service via text message

By Chris McGinnis, Tim Jue, SF Gate

A new feature from Alaska Airlines may soon put an end to time wasted on the phone waiting for travel help and text message instead. Fliers can message 82008 to connect with a customer service representative for answers to simple travel questions.

An estimated 70 percent of people who contact Alaska are using a mobile device, according to the airline. Of the calls that are made to the airline, Alaska believes 40 percent of them could be handled through text messages.

No other U.S. airline currently offers the option to connect with airline customer service representatives over text, but nearly all provide some level of customer support through Twitter and Facebook Messenger.

The help you can get via text includes: flight delays and schedule changes, emotional or service support animal requests, seat assignments, upgrades, requesting accessible travel services and questions about the Alaska frequent flier program, Mileage Plan.

We're told text message customer service can't help with making new reservations, voluntary flight changes and cancellations, paid seat upgrades, and enrolling in Mileage Plan if you don't have an upcoming reservation.

When we tried it out this week here's what happened. I texted 82008 saying: "I'm testing your new help feature for a story I'm writing for SFGate. How's it going?"

Alaska: Reply Y to text with us for customer service & offers & agree to terms. Texts may be automated. Consent not required for purchase.

Me: Y

Alaska: Thank you. An agent will be with your shortly. Msg and data rates may apply. To opt out, text QUIT. This service does not accept pictures or emojis.

Hello, my name is Craig and I'll be assisting you today

Me: Hi Craig. I am testing your new help feature for a story I'm writing for SFGate. How's it going. (In my head, I'm wondering now if I interacting with a human or a robot.)

Alaska: Good, how are you? Is there anything I can assist you with?

Me: Yes. Can you tell me what your next flight to Seattle is today with seats available? From SFO.

Alaska: Sure. One moment. The next flight leave on Alaska 1088 at 5:32 pm

Me: OK thanks. Are there window seats available? (Still wondering... human or robot?)

Alaska: Yes, there is one window available

Me: Perfect. I will check the website. Are you a human or a robot?

Alaska: You're welcome. I'm an agent with Alaska

Me: Great. Thank you. Good to see this new option working smoothly.

Alaska: Thank you for choosing Alaska. We appreciate your business. - Craig

The Alaska text message support can't accept payments, so if your reservation requires a fee, it might be best to handle those requests the old fashioned way over the phone or through the airline's website.

Alaska Air also provides a chat feature on its website called "Ask Jenn" where passengers can get answers to frequently asked questions. "Ask Jenn" is an automated system — so you won't be interacting with a real live person as you would if you call or textAlaska's customer call centers.

All the U.S. carriers staff a social media operation, tracking tweets, Facebook messages and responding to passenger inquiries in real-time.

Text messaging customer support is an obvious next step for airlines to interact with fliers. Making onboard phone calls through onboard wifi is banned by many carriers, but more and more airlines are introducing free in-flight texting to customers. Click here for our post about that.

Alaska has been offering free in-flight messaging for a while now, and it really makes sense for other carriers to follow its lead to give passengers with another convenient customer service option.

Have you or would you use texting to interact with airline customer service? Please leave your thoughts on the comments.

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