Getting the basics right – airline bookings

I’m booking a flight back from Seattle to San Francisco (actually San Jose) and can’t let the opportunity pass to learn from the best – and the worst. Here are some screens that came back after a search for flights this Saturday – conducted just now at 11am or so in a coffee shop in Seattle.

The Winners

First: Southwest

They do the basics right – everything I need is on one page and I can make a decision very quickly. An excellent job.

Next: Virgin America

It’s even simpler than the Southwest site, though sadly they don’t yet fly to San Jose.Another superb job, and they deservedly got my booking to fly here from San Francisco International.

The Losers

For some reason I tried United – an airline which I refer to as UNTIED and have sworn never to fly again after a 50% or so record of losing my bags and fantastically poor on-board and check-in service. Their website didn’t change that verdict.

(I swear this wasn’t set up).

After booking the Southwest flight I decided to book a couple of internal Air New Zealand flights for when I get back. After entering my search I got this brick wall of death:

It felt like a big “F-You” from Air New Zealand to everyone offshore (or maybe more than that). Frankly I am pretty annoyed and considering just staying in Auckland instead of going home for the night. Yes – that’s what I will do.

Airlines, like all stores, can win or lose a customer at each screen. When we run a search for flights then the next screen should show decent results, let the customer select the day, flight time and class of flight and commit to travel. The process needs to feel friendly, to project professionalism and the sense of reliability and safety that airlines must have infused through them. The values of the website need to reflect the values of the business. Air New Zealand and United failed at this – and goodness knows how many customers they lose as a result. I expected it from United.

Published by Lance Wiggs


8 replies on “Getting the basics right – airline bookings”

  1. Lance, that’s actually a very good point. I came across Air NZ’s authentication a few time when I was trying to book a flight from overseas.

    I have to say though that besides that (and the fact that it’s impossible to book some valid Air NZ fares and routes through their own site) the booking process with them is ok/good in the grand scheme of airline online booking sites.

    It’s interesting though that a lot of LCC websites seem to have adopted the online channel way more naturally than full-sevice airlines have. From their point of view it obviously makes sense as automation saves them money, hassle and commission payments to travel agents.

    For the fun, try to book online with Thai on their website? My personal worst booking experience ever, very similar to your United experience, it just bangs out with a fault and you can guess if it’s a fault or if there are no flights available or or or… Lufthansa and a bunch of other Tier-1 carriers are similarly bad.



  2. I ran into the Air NZ confirmation screen several times (though not all the time) from within NZ so its not just an international thing.

    I am guessing they are trying to make life hard for House of Travel. The confirmation box appeared the day after their new site went live.

    As you point out its a risky strategy to annoy your customers just to squash a minor annoyance.


  3. The authentication thing does bug me a little bit with Air NZ…but it bugs me a hell of a lot more that I can’t book online using my “airpoints” from overseas. Especially, as I then get charged a booking fee if I ring up and make the booking.


  4. Hi Lance,

    We’ve been using the CAPTCHA authentication for some time now to try to weed out users of the booking engine who aren’t genuine customers – typically other businesses running automated scripts to read pricing. We actively work to identify and authenticate these site (ab)users for a number of reasons, including preventing a degraded experience for all other customers as a result of the load on Air NZ’s web infrastructure.

    Regrettably we sometimes get it wrong and request authentication from genuine customers, an annoyance we’re committed to minimise as much as possible. I can only apologise for the frustration you and anyone else has felt upon seeing the CAPTCHA page, and assure you it’s a concern we take very seriously and continue to work on.

    Anyone seeing the authentication when searching for airfares on any of our websites is more than welcome to email me personally:
    kim (dot) walbridge (at)
    The more we hear about this the better we can reduce this frustration for our customers.

    Kim Walbridge
    Online Sales Manager
    Air NZ


    1. A kind response Kim to offer your email to respond to.

      I’ve experienced the Catcha every time I’ve used the website from here in the USA. The last time was an hour ago or so when I logged in to myAirNZ, clicked on a booked flight to “manage details” and was confronted with the screen.

      There must, must be better ways to address this problem – we are all seeing it. People in the US including @kiwigirlinDC see it all the time, people in NZ see it occasionally. I can only imagine that most US visitors are occasional users and see it more often than not, while Kiwis booking domestic flights see it less.



    2. Hi Kim,

      I see it pretty much every time I use the AirNZ website from Australia (from either hotel internet or 3’s mobile network via a 3G connection). Hope that helps.



  5. I too have learn to hate this authentication “feature”, and as far as I’m concerned, it has cost Air New Zealand numerous sales. Let me get this straight – they are trying to stop others checking there prices? I thought they would want to maximize there exposure.

    Another thing I’ve noticed from Air New Zealand is that fights from Australia through Auckland to the USA are cheaper than flights from Auckland to the USA (at times by hundreds of dollars). Seems were subsidising the Aussies.


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