Airline websites: how hard can it be?

Information technology is arguably more important to the airline industry than to any other when air carriers are increasingly doing business direct with their customers – from 60% to 99% of them, depending on the airline.

Yet, as an ordinary IT-challenged customer, I seem to continually find things that should be simple being complicated and things that should be fast being slow.

I’m tempted to fall back on the stereotype of the IT geek who doesn’t live in the real world and doesn’t think like ordinary people. I also understand that, on one level, it doesn’t really matter to an airline accountant if the booking process is slow when the modern airline IT system is a self-serve vending machine; it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get something out of it if the labour is being performed by the customer and is, therefore, cost-free to the airline.

Nevertheless, it seems to me to be self-evident that the faster the system, the more tickets you can sell. I went to sleep thinking about this blog last night and actually had a dream about a super-fast airline website that performed each action so fast and seamlessly it was truly joyous (OK, so I’m part-nerd). I was truly disappointed this morning when I realised it was still a mental pie in the sky.

Little things can make a huge difference. You may have noticed that the Jetstar IT boffins sent a version 2.0 of the airline’s website live last weekend (did you notice in the changeover Cairns disappeared from the destination list in the booking engine and was replaced for a few hours by Port Douglas?)

The change has introduced a feature that I reckon makes the Jetstar website better than the Qantas website in at least one respect: clicking on the “origin” button in the booking engine now opens a horizontal window that contains all the airline’s destinations, whereas the Qantas window opens only a vertical drop-down of every destination in the inventory, more than likely requiring much scrolling.

However, Qantas has always had a great time-saving feature in its travel date selection where the date and the day of the week are listed together. That eliminates the need to click on a calendar pop-up, which can be a huge time-waster, depending how fast your browser or internet service provider is.

It gets more complicated if you want to look up a schedule before you book. Qantas and Virgin Blue are way out in front on this score with simple daily or weekly departure and arrival schedules for each route.

Jetstar lists its schedule for a set period (typically around three months ahead) with a list of every date inclusion and exclusion that makes your brain hurt.

Tiger no longer even makes that service available; you can look up only services for one specific date and, if you want to conduct more than one search, the systems “unselects” everything you have selected so that you have to renominate your preferences each time.

Tiger’s software simply reflects the fact that the airline paid as little as possible for its IT, as it does for everything, to conform with its “ultra-low-cost” philosophy.

What are you pet hates with airline websites? Have you ever had a booking go wrong as a result of the airline's website? Is there as standout that gets your vote?