System overload: Savvy shortcuts to sanity

Here's how you can escape from automated phone-system hell and stop the stress and frustration that plagues all of us who dread the words, "For English, press one. If you know your party's extension, you may ..."

Yikes.

I don't expect you to thank me, but please call at least five friends or relatives or just your neighbor and tell them to run out and buy this edition of the Miner, clip out the Tony Evans column, and save it, forever. I don't have five friends, but don't let that stop you. (Just kidding. I have two - my cats.)

Oh, you're going to love this information, and best of all, you'll be able to reach a real live person. You're welcome.

Cell phone

companies

Cingular: Press 1, enter cell number or press 0 three times to be transferred to a representative.

Sprint/Nextel: After the brief announcement in Spanish (of course), press 1 then 2. Press 0 twice, then say the word "agent."

T-Mobile: After announcements, press 2 for existing customers then say the word "representative."

Verizon: Press 0 a total of four times - once after each prompt by the computer voice.

Credit card and

financial services

American Express: Press 0 a total of four times - once after each prompt by the computer voice. Ignore the "invalid entry" prompt.

Capital One: Press 0 a total of three times, once after each prompt by the computer voice or wait through all the menu choices then press 0 at the end.

MasterCard: Press 1 for English, then press 0.

Visa: Press 0 three times and ignore, always, the computer voice that says "invalid entry."

Government

Passport and other related services: When prompted to select English or another language, don't press anything. The system will assume you are out-of-touch with reality and have a rotary-dial phone. You will be connected immediately to a live representative.

Retail services

Amazon.com: Just press 0, then stay on the line through all the menu listings to reach a live person.

Best Buy: Press 1 a total of three times, once after each menu prompt, then press the pound sign six times, ignoring prompts for your order number and telephone number. If you press 0 twice, the system hangs up on you after saying, "I'm sorry you're having problems."

Circuit City: Press 0.

Costco: Press 0 twice, ignoring the voice that says "invalid option entry."

e-Bay: Press 0 twice.

Nordstrom: You go direct to a human voice. Yea!

Starbucks: Just press 0, but you may have to hang on the line for a while.

Travel

America West: Press 2 for America West, then 2 again. Then press 0. (You'll start with the US Airways system since they recently merged.)

American Airlines: Press 0 twice. When the automated voice comes on, say the word: "agent." Before transferring you, they'll warn that you'll be charged an extra $8 service fee if you buy a ticket over the phone.

Amtrak: Don't try to outsmart the computer voice by staying silent. It's quicker if you say "agent," then confirm by saying the word "yes."

Continental: Press 0 two times.

Delta: After the introductory menu, say the word "agent" twice.

Northwest: Just press 0.

Southwest: You will go directly to an agent after dialing (800) 435-9792.

United: Stay on the line to get the automated system. Say "agent," then "yes." The voice will ask you what kind of agent you want, and if you just say the word "agent" again, you'll end up with a live reservation person.

US Airways: Press 1 for US Airways, then 2, then 0.

Whew! After all this, I need a couple aspirin. But it's the only way I found to reach a live voice.