A growing number of business travelers are bumping into the downside of outsourcing these days. Not so long ago, most subcontractors worked behind the scenes, handling baggage or cleaning rooms. But to cut expenses, many travel companies have started steering them to jobs like stamping tickets and fielding calls that put them into direct contact with customers. It can make for an uncomfortable mix.

By far the biggest annoyance for travelers is the language barrier between them and heavily accented employees of call centers in India and elsewhere. Andrea Austin, a corporate service representative in Stone Mountain, Ga., has become increasingly frustrated with Delta Air Lines, which transfers some of her calls to India. Hold times are routinely 10 minutes or longer, she says. But that is not the worst of it.

Perhaps no travel company has been more publicly associated with the successes and failures of outsourcing than Travelocity, the online travel agency owned by Sabre Holdings, based in Southlake, Tex. In March 2004, it began shunting customer service calls to India, a move that played a big part in its swing from a loss of $55 million in 2003 to a projected profit of $15 million last year.

While the transition looked good on paper, it did not do as well in practice. "We had some logistical challenges in the beginning," said Lesley Harris, Travelocity's vice president for sales and customer care. That is an understatement. Travelers flooded online forums with complaints about phone agents who either could not understand them or could not be understood.

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