Your searches on Google for airline customer service may turn up a scam

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A version of a scam has hit panicky travelers over and over and over and over.

People searching Google for airline contact information when they have a problem occasionally find bogus customer service phone numbers listed at or near the top of Google.

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If you call, crooks posing as airline reps try to persuade you to pay to rebook a flight or another task. Your money goes poof.

No one knows how often this scam happens. But this airline customer service misdirection is common knowledge in the travel industry and among people who know Google.

In researching this article, I found an apparent scam number highlighted by Google when I searched “JetBlue contact customer support.”

Google has the power to ensure that it shows the correct airline contact information, according to three experts in the inner workings of web searches. In their view, Google chooses not to fix the problem.

Google says that it’s “extremely rare” for airline customer service searches to show you scam phone numbers. A Google representative didn’t say what the company considers an acceptable number of people tricked out of their time or money.

The persistence of the airline scam shows that while we’re worried about a future of misleading AI, widely used sites such as Google are already pockmarked with scams and deceptions in plain sight.

Here’s my advice: If you’re searching for airline customer service contact information, DO NOT trust phone numbers you might see highlighted at the top or other prominent places on Google.

Eyeball the adjacent web links for authenticity. Make sure you click on the company’s official website or app. Or I’ve listed below the correct contact information for major airlines.

It’s harder to spot scams when you’re in a hurry for customer service help. Criminals feed on our desperation. Google is enabling them.

Criminals use the tricks of internet merchants to get numbers they control to pop up when you Google for airline customer service.

They know that when you search Google for some information, the company might show what it believes is accurate information at the very top or other prominent places on Google’s site.

Often, this is handy. Google “state bird of Ohio” or the name of a neighborhood pizza place, and Google may show you an answer or the phone number - not just links.

Similarly, you may see a phone number listed when you’re searching for airline contact information. It might be highlighted at the top, listed on the right side under a business’s information or under the “People also ask” questions.

Most of the time, that phone number will be correct. Occasionally, it will be a scammer-controlled bogus number.

When I searched for JetBlue customer support, I saw a number highlighted in Google’s “People also ask” section under “How do I get a hold of someone on JetBlue?”

I called and asked the person who answered several times if I had reached JetBlue. Eventually the representative said it wasn’t JetBlue’s official customer service but a travel agency that works with the airline. I hung up.

There were red flags that this Google information was bogus, including an odd font and a website below the number that wasn’t JetBlue. But if you’re a traveler dealing with a suddenly canceled flight, you might overlook that.

When I told Google about the apparently misleading JetBlue number, the company said it would “take action as appropriate under our policies.” JetBlue didn’t respond to my questions.

We advise people to report attempted scams to the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker ( and to the Federal Trade Commission’s fraud reporting site ( I did that.

Near Media’s Mike Blumenthal, who has helped legitimate businesses with their Google search results, said Google could fix airline number scams.

There are only so many airlines, travel sites and their associated customer service numbers. He said Google should be able to create an authoritative list and only show you those numbers unless a change is vetted by an airline or a partner.

Google, said Blumenthal, “acts like they are working on a fix, but the same issues occur over and over and over again.”

Google says that when it detects you’re probably searching for customer service contact information, it has vetted numbers from businesses and only highlights those. But Google doesn’t always understand what humans are looking for. Less common search words might be easier for scammers to game.

People do billions of searches every day on Google. If Google shows bogus phone numbers controlled by scammers to even a tiny percentage of searchers, that’s still a lot of potentially duped people.

Airline customer service impersonation scams pop up other places, including the X - formerly Twitter - app and Alexa’s voice assistant. But Google is the world’s front door to information and therefore the richest target for scammers.

Airlines aren’t blameless either. They make it frustrating to reach human help.

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How to avoid airline customer service scams

Check to see whether your problem can be resolved on the airline’s website or mobile app without needing customer help. See the official contact information below.

Once again, please don’t rely on a phone number that’s listed for an airline (or rental car company or bank) anywhere in Google search results. And if you do, check the web link that’s below it to try to gauge its authenticity.

Rand Fishkin, chief executive of the software firm SparkToro and a close follower of Google, suggested that if you search Google for airline contact information, include the airline web address like this: “southwest real person”

Yes, that requires you to know an airline’s web address.

An airline executive also recently told me that the live chat options on airline websites and apps can be the best way to reach a representative quickly. (They’re often automated chatbots plus humans.)

These aren’t perfect solutions. Ultimately, when Google shows you information it presents as authoritative and it’s wrong, that is Google’s fault. Not yours.

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The correct customer service contact information for six major airlines (from the United States):

-Delta: 800-221-1212;

Find more information on Delta’s official help website including a big red “Message Us” button to live chat with customer service.

Delta’s app also has a “contact us” link at the bottom of the screen. Tap it to find contact phone numbers and a “message us” option.

-American Airlines: 800-433-7300;

American Airlines has more phone numbers and other customer service help on its site.

American’s app has a one-tap feature to message with customer service. Once you log into your account or choose to continue as a guest, tap the image that looks like chat bubbles in the top right of the app.

-Southwest: 800-435-9792;

For more information, try the Help Center website for Southwest:

-United Airlines: 800-864-8331;

See United’s website for more phone numbers and other help information including a “Chat now” option at the bottom of the page.

In United’s app, sign into your account or pick “continue as guest.” From the menu at the top left that looks like three lines, scroll down to “Help Center” and find “Contact Us” at the bottom of the next screen. There are phone numbers and an option to “Message us.”

-Alaska: 800-252-7522 (for help before your flight); 800-654-5669 (for help after you’ve flown);

See a full list of contact information (including live chat) for Alaska Airlines

In the Android app, tap on the menu at the top left that looks like three lines, scroll down to “Contact us” for phone calling and texting options to reach customer service.

In the iPhone app, tap on “More” at the bottom of the screen. Then find “Contact us” and pick “Customer care” or “Reservations” for phone calling and texting options to reach customer service.

-JetBlue: 800-538-2583;

See JetBlue’s website for a full list of contact information. Or to message with the airline, click the icon in the lower right corner of the website that looks like chat bubbles.

In JetBlue’s app, tap “More” in the bottom of the screen and then “Help.” There are options to chat message with customer service or tap to call them.

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