2008-02-06

Check-in Challenges

My wife and I recently returned from a trip to Florida. As usual, we flew United Airlines. Our checkin process was a little interesting. It sounds like something you'd read on The Daily WTF. For starters United could use a UI overhaul on their automated kiosks. First off, you're given the option of employee/companion travel. I think that's for employees and companions of employees, but it isn't really clear. Second, you're given 4 options to identify yourself, the most common being a credit card swipe. Unfortunately the picture really doesn't convey that message and you have to read pretty close to know which option to pick. Other airlines just have you swipe your card (or passport) from the start.

It was also pretty funny to hear the guy next to me arguing with the United employee about how he didn't need to swipe his card because he'd already paid for the flight. It took them a few minutes to convince him the credit card was for identification only. Call me crazy, but couldn't they use the drivers license that they require as identification to start the identification process? It must be easier to read a credit card than 50 states worth of different data formats.

So, I swipe my credit card and it pops up my wife's name. No problem, we'll just check her in first. We're told that the FAA may delay our flight and we should look for alternates if possible. Ok, look for alternates then. It tells us none are available almost immediately. Why even bother to tell us to try alternates if it knows there are none?

We finish checking in my wife and I slide the card again expecting my info to pop-up. No, it's her again. Please note that the card I've swiped both times is the one with my name on it. Obviously the number is the same, but I'm pretty sure my name is encoded on the card as well because it shows up on the receipt at restaurants. Is this a common problem? Do related people not check-in to the same flight often? Being skilled in tricking crappy software (I write plenty of it myself), I pull out a different credit card which thankfully produces my name for check-in.

So now we are both checked in and waiting for the tags to print for the checked baggage. Why don't these print from the same kiosk? The helpful lady behind the counter asks us if we checked bags. We reply yes. She asks if we pushed the button saying we were checking bags. We reply yes. She tells us nothing is printing so we must not have. Well we did and we were sure we did and we went back and forth a couple of times. Eventually she decides the printer isn't working, but why did she have to even argue with us? If we had screwed up and forgot to tell the computer about our bag, there's nothing we can do at this point anyway, so she should just go about doing what needs done to make things right. That's what I hate about the automated kiosks. We've traded 5 knowledgeable ticket agents for 4 kiosks, 2 goofball agents that appear to be skilled in little more than sticker folding, and a knowledgeable agent that comes and cleans up when the goofballs don't know what to do. Questions like can you change our seats so my wife and I can sit together? stump the goofballs and require the roving expert. Before the kiosks, the ticket agent would just sit you next to the people you were checking in with. Hmm, progress.

Don't get me wrong. I love the kiosks when they work. If you aren't checking a bag and you aren't traveling with anyone, the kiosks are a breeze. When you need to change anything the kiosks just aren't up to the task yet.

Hey United, simplify please.

1 comment:

floydpink said...

Here's my simplify idea - scrap the damn kiosks. Usually I would be all for automation, but in my experience, they are almost always as bad as you described.

I always walk straight to the person at the counter. They can hook me up with the best seats, I can ask if there are any better seats ($20 millionaire anyone?), and generally I breeze right on through.

Airports generally suck all around now. Where's our cross-country maglev?

Oh - and OpenID is really slick when you finally get it working...