Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Do airlines not understand their customers?

Some companies seem to survive only because they provide an essential service or because out of a small number of alternatives, they can do it more cheaply but many do not seem to consider how a customer will arrive at their site and what they will do next.

Hotels are one of these (with, I think, very similar problems) but I will pick on airlines.

The general view of an airline site is clutter and noise. There are too many options and I'm pretty sure that 99% of the time, I am going to their site either to enquire about a possible flight or to make some kind of update/check-in to an already booked flight.

I went to a particular airline site (which I won't mention - but most are the same) and the first thing I notice is 6 top-level menu items including - confusingly - 3 that are similar: book; vacations; travel info but then down the side there are tabs: book a flight; book a vacation; rent a car; book a hotel; As well as some others.

Already I am confused but let's stick with it. I know they are low cost and I will fight past the confusion to try and find a flight from London to Halifax. This is where airlines really lose the plot and where it is obvious that they design a site based around their systems rather than around the customer.

One of the problems for people like me is that there are about 50 airports around London, all called London Something and not all sites allow you to select "London (All)". Heathrow is much easier for me to get to than somewhere like Stanstead or Luton to the point I would even pay more to go from Heathrow. In this case, they only fly from Gatwick so I don't even have that problem here.

What I want to ask is very simple: What kind of price are flights from London to Halifax in, say, June time. I can't ask this question, in fact, it takes a while to even work out where this airline flies from and to. If you go to Air Canada's site, you can download 1000 page route timetable just to work out when they fly from where to where.

Anyway, I guess I can just choose two random dates in June and pick London and Halifax and see what I get, that should be close enough to get an idea right? I put in the "from" and "to" and then some dates in June (Sunday to Saturday) and then click search. Now, what would be nice here? What would be nice would be the grid that some sites have which shows you prices either side but nope. This site shows you the classic "there are no flights on these dates".

What now? What would be very useful is some more information. Perhaps, "flights between London and Halifax only run during July and August", perhaps, "There are no flights for these days (because we don't fly on Sunday) so how about these alternative days?" How about, "These are some example other fares of other flights near these dates so you can choose the cheapest"? Nope. Nothing, just the error. Why? Because they have geared the site around a web service that takes specific dates and returns results or nothing if there are no results. Their web site should cater for that, but it doesn't.

OK, I still haven't left, I really want to know. Oh look, there is a random link I have just noticed elsewhere on the page which says, "cheap fare finder for flexible dates". It would have been nice to see that on the front page underneath the main booking area but let's go for it. "Please select origin" - hmmm, no option to choose London, it seems that this only applies (for some reason) to flights starting in Canada. No headline saying that though. Could I book a fake return and then a single to get a cheap return from the UK? Maybe but at this point, I have given up, I won't book this company even if they are half the price of a major carrier. Why? Simply because I couldn't do what I (and I suspect many others) want to do.
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