Websites should not make users “error”-prone: Airlines are wasting my time

I’ve been thinking about why airlines have been on this blog so often of late, and I have come to the conclusion that it must be because I travel more often than average, and small things that might not be annoying if they only affected me once a year have been affecting me roughly once a month for the past four months.

This time it is an airline booking website that has frustrated me, and (worse) wasted my time (which is, after all, the only thing in life that is completely irreplaceable, once spent).  I tried to book a domestic flight on Air New Zealand, and thus went to the local New Zealand website.  I searched for a flight, found an appropriate flight time and price, and tried to book the flight using Airpoints dollars.  After being redirected through a log-in page, I was shown the following error message:

Australian airpoints members must use the Australian Website

When I clicked the continue button, it took me to the Australian site, but it had not passed on the search or selections I had made on the New Zealand site, so I had to perform that search over again (and then when I did, the prices presented were quoted in New Zealand dollars and the Australian price did not show until I had selected a flight).  There is no way I could have known this in advance, because there is no standard for which regional variant of an airline website users should use (Qantas insists you use the website of the country where your flight will originate, Air New Zealand likes you to use the site where you live, for example), and nowhere on the Air New Zealand website does it actually say which variant to use.

There are two problems with this scenario:

  1. I am not Australian, and there is no reason for my Airpoints membership to think I am.  The membership was created in New Zealand, and it has me registered as a New Zealand passport holder.  Now, I am not patriotic, and I don’t particularly care about a website calling me Australian, but the text is misleading and could actively confuse some users (or seriously annoy users more patriotic than me). It should read “Airpoints members resident in Australia…” (because the sole reason it thinks I am an Australian is my address).
  2. The website did not (though this is a technically easy feat) pass on what I was trying to do — I landed on a search screen on the Australian web-site and had to begin the booking process again from the start.  At best this is annoying and a waste of my time, at worst it could have meant I missed out on fast-selling sale fares.

Nowhere on any of the Air New Zealand websites does it tell you that you must book through your local version if you want to use your Airpoints membership to provide your information, accumulate points, or spend your accumulated points, nor does it use the IP address of your computer (the number your computer identifies by on the internet) to redirect you before you begin searching.  This is an easy error to make, and the time cost in recovering from it is relatively high (the two minutes it might take to make a booking basically doubles, given that the user has to start over).  Air New Zealand has ample opportunities to prevent this “error” (I find it hard to call reasonable user behaviour an error), and also to make it easier for users to recover from the error without costing them a lot of time.

Errors are something that should be considered in the design of any interactive system — both how to make it harder for user to make them, and how to make it easier for user to recover when they do make them — and Air New Zealand has failed in this.  Are there any systems you make mistakes in all the time?  It might not be your fault.


4 Responses to “Websites should not make users “error”-prone: Airlines are wasting my time”

  1. 1 travelnooks Tuesday, April 8, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Some websites are like that sometimes. I remember a smaller networking site a few years back, where registering would lead me back to the register page over and over and over…and each time, listing the email address as used, despite me still not being able to log in.

  2. 2 tony Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    I have been trying to book on Cathay Pacific’s web site for several days and get the following errors every time…

    “The departure city is not available for booking”
    Melbourne. It is available. It says so on the same screen.

    “The arrival city was not selected”
    It was. Shanghai. It’s showing on the screen too so I must have selected it.

    “The departure date is not within the departure period”
    It is.

    “The number of days you selected is less than the minimum required”
    It isn’t.

    I finally worked out that if I uncheck the “Make a stopover” box it will allow me to make a booking. So I thought maybe I’m not allowed to have a stopover with this fare? But then when I checked the fare rules we are allowed to have a stopover…

    I can make a booking from a different part of the web site but the fare comes up $200 higher.


  3. 3 danamckay Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Aaargh, Tony, sounds like me trying to book sale fares on Emirates last week. I could not seem to figure out how to book those fares, and being a user experience person I blame them for that. If I had really wanted to make an extra trip to NZ I might have done more about it, but I decided to save the money instead.

  1. 1 Travel website usability by a travel writer « Dana’s user experience blog Trackback on Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 1:51 pm

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