The Tao of On-line Processes Part 2

Hold the presses! We have a winner.

Those of you who follow this blog will probably have read my thoughts on the on-line booking practices of certain airlines and how they are not customer focused, or indeed well designed.

I think we have found the creme de la creme of bad airline web sites.


Normally I wouldn't have found this myself but I was alerted to the site by my father as he tried to book a flight recently.

Intrinsically there are a number of issues with the site:

  • The booking process is convoluted and frustrating
  • The pricing is inaccurate and unclear
  • The web site is badly designed.

The problems

From a process point of view the booking appears relatively straightforward, with the site giving you a running total of how much the flight is going to cost. But looking deeper into the site there are a couple of interesting items that would frustrate anyone, not to mention a process designer.

For example, the first page allows you to choose your destination and dates (in an entry box surrounded by banner style adds and red highlighted 'price deals').

The second page will then allow you to select the specific flights on the dates you selected (plus a day either side). As with most budget airlines of the day the prices are displayed for each leg. Thus, my flight out to Spain cost £19.99 but the return cost £39.99.

The third page is basically a page to enter your name. It has a slew of 'DONT FORGET' messages, none of which assist with the booking process itself (DONT FORGET: All passenger names need to match their passports and must be written in full, not initials - we don't need your middle name). At this point the system has automatically allocated you an 'on-line check-in' option and added £8 to your fare. It has also sneakily selected that you will be checking in a bag and added £35 to the fare to pay for that. Clicking 'Continue' at the bottom takes you to the fourth page.

We are already at four pages so far and 6 clicks (after entering the travel dates, destinations and names) and the flight which was priced at £59.98 (£19.99 + £39.99) has now increased in cost to £129.46. It appears that there was an additional £35.50 in Taxes and Charges which were not included in the 'price' of the fares.

So.. page 4. This is where you get the display asking you to click where in the plane you would like to sit. The seats are colour-coded and each colour equates to a different price per seat. (Standard seats: £3.99, Extra leg-room seats £8.99). If you try to bypass this page by not selecting seats it adds a warning that needs to be clicked through  to tell you that you haven't reserved a seat (That's two more clicks for those keeping count)

At page 5 we find ourselves with a 'confirmation of flight details'. This displays the original flight details I selected back on page 2 along with my name, number of bags and seat number (if applicable). At the right of the screen (as has been appearing on every page) is a running total of the amount currently accumulated for the booking. Careful review of this reveals that the price has now ballooned to £152.19 thanks to the inclusion of a premium meal and travel insurance. Scrolling further down page 5 reveals that these options have been automatically selected for you and you now have to deselect these (two more clicks), and click the 'Continue' button.

(For those keeping count, that's now 10 clicks over and above the entry of pertinent details and we are on page 6)

But wait: It won't let us go through to page 6 because it is flagging up that we don't have travel insurance. Despite the fact that I have specifically chosen to exclude travel insurance it is reminding me that I should have some and requiring another click to continue (11 clicks and 7 pages)

Now comes the page I REALLY like. 'The Checkout page'. Our running total at the right is back down to £129.46 and I can now give the booking my address details. Like many web sites this one has a 'postcode look-up facility'. You enter your postcode (zipcode) into the box and click the button and it will preload your address into the relevant fields. You also select your method of payment and complete the details. At this point another amount is added to your total as 'A booking fee of 3.5% (minimum charge of 4.99GBP/ 7EUR/ 10CHF/ 180CZK/ 30PLN) will be applied to all card payments except for Solo and Visa Electron which are free. For bookings made using PayPal the booking fee is 3.49GBP/ 5.00EUR. Payment made by credit card or PayPal incur an additional fee of 2.25% or 1.5% respectively.' So now  if I book with my American Express card I will find myself with another £8.01 added to the amount bringing it to the grand total of £137.47 (Remember this is for flights that were advertised on page 2 at £19.99 and £39.99).

But wait! Now that I have entered my post code, retrieved my address, filled in my credit card details and pressed enter the system is throwing up an invalid address error. How can it be invalid? I've used the system's own postcode retrieval routine! The details retrieved are, indeed, my home address. So how is this an error? I try again. Same thing. I enter the address manually. Same error. At this point it appeared that I would have to ring the airline to find the answer.

The Customer Service line for this airline costs 50p per minute to call and after wading through the Interactive Voice Response the quickest I could get through to a live person was 2 minutes (So the cost of my air fare has now increased by at least another £1). Recounting the troubles I had encountered to the lady at the other end of the line she was able to come up with an instantaneous response. It appears that there is a bug on the website which will not accept any punctuation in the address. So anyone who lives in St. Mary's Road, or Chapel-en-Le-Frith is in trouble. The system will invalidate all fields in the address which have the punctuation and not allow the address to be recorded. Having checked the website help page this is not detailed anywhere. So basically a pretty fundamental error like that - which is already known to the airline - is not detailed anywhere on the web-site leading to either loss of business for the airline as disgruntled folks decide to book with other airlines or to the customer being gouged for extra costs in having to contact the customer services desk.

Another long post again, I'm afraid, but in this case I think the summary will be quite quick

Airlines should look at their web-sites from a customer point of view rather than an increased revenue point of view. As a potential customer I will be more likely to spend money (and provide repeat business) to an airline that offers good service rather than one that makes the experience fraught and complicated.

As with most processes, this applies equally to yours too.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford  
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