An Open Letter to The Honorable Pete Buttigieg

NLX CEO Andrei Papancea writes an open letter to The Honorable Pete Buttigieg regarding airline customer service.

Andrei Papancea


The Honorable Pete Buttigieg
U.S. Department of Transportation 
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE 
Washington, DC 20590

November 22, 2022

To The Honorable Pete Buttigieg - 

In 2020, taxpayers spent $54 billion bailing out U.S. airlines during the pandemic. The money was intended to help airlines stave off staff layoffs or furloughs, yet Bloomberg reported that more than 400,000 airline workers lost their jobs due to COVID-19. 

Despite airlines’ efforts to aggressively hire more staff, passenger support continues to be poor. Inside Hook reported that “some customer service centers are logging hold times up to 704 minutes.” In May, The Wall Street Journal called the hourslong wait to speak with an airline “an improvement.” 

It’s 2022. Airlines can and need to provide better customer service to passengers:

  • When flights are delayed or canceled, or gates are moved, passengers deserve immediate updates with clear and transparent next steps.
  • Passengers deserve to be able to contact airline support in the language and method (voice, chat, etc.) of their choosing.
  • Passengers deserve more inclusive, accommodating support for all different kinds of abilities. For example, passengers requesting wheelchairs or scooters should not need to wait on hold to get the assistance they require. Passengers with visual impairments shouldn’t be forced online to read a webpage to resolve their inquiries (or accept a charge for live conversation) just to get the essential support they need.

The standard for customer service should be that passengers receive proactive communication about flight disruptions - as they happen - with clear information about the next steps and passenger options in the language, and channel (voice, text, etc.) of their choice. That standard should be that passengers can reach out to airlines in the channel of their choice, they are greeted by name, asked if they are calling about an upcoming flight, and given the option to self-service while holding their place in line or waiting on hold or for a call-back. The bar should be set so that passengers deserve a more inclusive customer service experience, and should not have to wait for hours on hold to schedule the assistance they need during transit. 

Because customers were able to resolve their inquiries through customer self-service, hold times drop and agents can handle more complicated requests. At the same time, customer satisfaction and trust rise, and the American air travel experience truly improves. 

Automation can help make each of these expectations a reality. Better yet, automation is cost-effective (cents, not dollars), scalable according to demand  (unlike call centers), and easily integrates with the systems airlines are already using. 

We at NLX echo your calls for airlines to provide better customer support to passengers and stand ready to help airlines improve their customer support through best-in-class automation. 

NLX is one of eight AWS Conversational AI Partners and an AWS Travel and Hospitality Independent Software Vendor (ISV) Competency Partner. Our clients include some of the world’s largest airlines that are actively trying to improve their support, but there’s more that can be done. One client, in particular, called NLX’s automated, personalized self-service solution “A win for customers, a win for employees, and a win for stakeholders.”

We call on you, Secretary Pete, to be our ally and continue to be a champion for all passengers and flyers. Easily implementable solutions exist today. We invite you to experience the difference automated, personalized customer-self service can make during travel for yourself here, or watch here. Under your leadership, The United States Department of Transportation has a unique opportunity to advance the American air travel experience through passenger support. 

The time to act is now, ahead of the busy winter holiday travel season where weather and dramatic increases in air travel heavily impact airlines annually.  

NLX is happy to meet with you to discuss the solution further. 

As you once said, “The world is changing, but it is not changing on its own.” We’re ready to seize this opportunity with you to make a difference.

Andrei Papancea, 
NLX CEO and Chief Product Officer 

31 Hudson Yards
Floor 11
New York, NY 10001

Andrei Papancea

Andrei is our CEO and swiss-army knife for all things natural language-related.

He built the Natural Language Understanding platform for American Express, processing millions of conversations across AmEx’s main servicing channels.

As Director of Engineering, he deployed AWS across the business units of Argo Group, a publicly traded US company, and successfully passed the implementation through a technical audit (30+ AWS accounts managed).

He teaches graduate lectures on Cloud Computing and Big Data at Columbia University.

He holds a M.S. in Computer Science from Columbia University.