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United preserves isle jobs


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POSTED: Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Come April, some United Airlines customers who contact the company to make a reservation or give flight feedback might hear an occasional "Aloha."

The country's third-largest carrier announced yesterday that it will move 165 outsourced call center jobs from India to Hawaii and Chicago. The company will expand the role of its own qualified reservations sales and service representatives to include customer relations work.

"Moving these positions enables us to preserve and create 165 jobs for our employees in the United States," said Robin Urbanski, a spokeswoman for United. "The employees will still take reservations and they will be cross-trained to respond to written feedback."

The company, which operates 21 daily departures in Hawaii and manages 1,182 employees in the islands, has not determined the number of cross-trained employees that will be located in Honolulu, Urbanski said.

"Honolulu was selected as one of the locations because its geographic location and time zone will give us the number of hours that we needed," she said, adding that employees who are selected to fill these jobs will work out of existing office space.

United worked collectively with International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the aviation employee's union, to bring jobs back to the U.S., said Barbara Higgins, vice president-worldwide contact centers.

"We are proud and pleased the IAM and United were able to work together to bring jobs back to the United States and provide increased opportunities for our reservations members," said IAM District 141 President Rich Delaney.

United had been outsourcing call center jobs to India for some two or three years, Urbanski said.

"Our employees are much better suited to the task than a supplier," she said, adding that no reservationist jobs will be cut in the streamlining process.

However, Bloomberg News has reported that United will cut 1,000 more jobs, pushing the total to 9,000 by year's end, to help stem net losses at parent UAL that totaled $5.35 billion in 2008.

Along with the decision to end its association with a third-party contractor in India, United will shut down its current customer relations telephone line and advise customers to write or e-mail feedback about their travel experience.

Going forward, United customers who call 1-800-UNITED-1 will be directed to e-mail or mail letters; however customer relations employees will take reservations or provide other support as needed.

"This streamlined approach enables us to carefully research our guests' feedback and most importantly, respond thoughtfully with an e-mail, letter or phone call," the company said in an internal release.

Other corporate giants such as American, Delta and Disney have already moved in a similar direction, United said.

"We have an opportunity to preserve and create jobs for our employees while sharpening our focus on how we respond to our guests when they contact us with their feedback," Higgins said.