Profile of Dana Nichols, Airline Reservations Sales Representative
Intro: Would you like to help people make plans for their dream vacations, business trips, and flights to known or unusual ports of call? If so read on
The Story: My job title with Delta Airlines is Reservations Sales Representative. My tasks are to blend customer service with sales of airline tickets. Mine is one of many workstations, just a computer table with a head-high partition on three sides. Like the other sales reps, I use a computer and a phone headset, but my computer has a screen reader which talks to me in one ear, as the prospective passenger speaks into the other. I spend my time answering questions such as: "How big can my suitcase be?" or "Can I take a bottle of wine on board?" Most of my time, though, I spend persuading customers to buy the reservation I have just set up for them, and then persuading them to be transferred to another line for information on car rentals, hotel accommodations, and the company credit card. We are expected to transfer 2% of our calls, which works out to one or two a day.
There are 125 reps in my office, which takes up the entire fourth floor of a large office building. We used to have shifts starting at 7am and ending at 1am, so not everyone was there at once. Now the office is only open ten hours a day, so the shifts differ by only an hour (8am to 4pm or 9am to 5pm, for instance). I work an eight-hour shift; however, some people like a ten-hour shift with three days off. Three off-days in a row are nice if you want to travel, because one of the perks of this job is free air travel on a standby basis.
Most of the people I work with are younger than I am. They are college students or Army wives, but also retirees keeping busy. A few ambitious career-minded workers regard this job as a steppingstone into management. Most of the managers and supervisors used to be reps—some have been with the company less than five years. It is a very fluid workforce. There are so many offices around the country that transferring is easy, so people come and go. This makes it hard to form lasting friendships.
I got this job mainly through perseverance. It took me three years to locate the job. By word-of-mouth, I heard that an office was being set up here and that a training class for reps was beginning. It took another year to persuade the company to hire me.
A counselor from Easter Seals helped me show the company how they could provide reasonable accommodations. First, we found six other blind people who worked in telephone sales for airlines and other travel-related firms like Amtrak. Then we asked them to get an estimate of the cost involved in scripting their software for JAWS. When they hired me, the company also purchased the necessary equipment, including a braille embosser to produce learning materials as well as any memos or other company literature. When the next class began, I was part of it, and had individual tutoring as well because of the speech software.
In addition to a screen reader and speech synthesizer, with a dual headphone so I can hear the computer in one ear and the passenger in the other, I use a Handytech 80-cell braille display, and an 18-cell Braille Lite for taking notes. The company also purchased an Open Book scanner, which has turned out to be unnecessary.
The way I use this equipment to do my job is simply to make notes about the customer's needs on the Braille Lite; then, type them into the computer, using JAWS to get a quick read of the resulting screen whose details I summarize for the passenger. When more details or a repetition is necessary, I use the braille display. The phone system had to be modified at my terminal so I could access the phone through the computer rather than through a separate keyboard. So I have two and sometimes three programs running at once, and have to alt-tab back and forth.
The biggest problem in the job is the technology. I have been there for three years, and they have used three software packages, only one of which is scripted. They have just switched from NT to XP, and the software has to be rescripted entirely. For convenience, they are also scripting the next software package, a transition to which is planned sometime next year. The other blind rep and I have requested that they also script the software used by supervisors and other management personnel, thus giving us some upward mobility.
Although I worked for the past twenty years as a college instructor, I once worked as a medical transcriber, which was also a sedentary job. Even though I do not move around as much as in teaching, talking to passengers is very much like interacting with students. It is at once the most fun and the most stressful part of the job.
If you plan to do this kind of work, you need a lot of patience in order to deal with people, and a thick hide so you can stay calm when they get upset. You also need to be accommodating and able to work around computer problems. And, most of all, you need to be compliant, because rules are strict: you are paid for time logged on to the phones, so every minute away from the phone has to be accounted for. There are certain things you must say on every call—not saying them can result in a $10,000 fine for the company from the Department of Transportation. You have to keep in mind at all times that you are being monitored: occasionally, by Department of Transportation agents, company quality monitors, and your supervisor. The rewards are high, though: a good salary, good benefits, ability to travel, flexible hours, and recognition for good work. For instance, on our monthly quality assurance monitoring, I scored 100 three times in a row, and was given a "holiday override," i.e., the right to take a day off without having to ask permission beforehand.
The contact: Dana Nichols.