Last night my mom needed to buy a ticket for my 17-year-old brother to fly from Minneapolis back to San Francisco where they live. I was on the phone with her twice, walking her through the United Airlines website for over 20 minutes each time.
This is unacceptable. My mother, who is 55, isn’t very computer savvy but she does own a computer with an Internet connection, has taken programming classes, has done online dating, and has even managed to book
a ticket on Orbitz once… maybe twice.
She had conducted a search on Kayak.com (I’m assuming one of my little sisters suggested this to her), and had found one way ticket for $302 that she wanted to purchase. She called me the first time because she didn’t know how to purchase the ticket on Kayak.com (which is a story for another time). Instead of trying to walk her through the Kayak site, I had her go directly to unitedairlines.com.
She made it to the search for a flight page from the navigation before things started rapidly declining. “The flight had a layover in Denver. So I search from Minneapolis to Denver….”
“No, you don’t have to worry about that.” (Me)
“Time? I don’t remember the time? 8 AM. I think. Child? Is he a child? I think he’s a child.”
At this point, I realized that I was going to have to pull up the site to see what she was looking at. I whipped out my iPad and brought up unitedairlines.com.(All the while, my 2-year-old son who needed to go to bed was screaming and crying at me in the background, something that probably doesn’t come into play during usability studies, but definitely does in real life.)
I got her through the search page only to hear swearing as a price of $518 appeared. (My mom recently lost her job and really doesn’t have the money to pay for a flight, but was trying desperately to prevent my brother from taking the Greyhound bus.) I quickly scanned the page with her wondering how Kayak had showed her a price of $302. Finally I noticed a price of $302 in the left hand column.
I had no idea at the time why these two significantly different prices were appearing, but I just had my mom click the lowest fare link. (Upon further investigation after she had gotten her tickets, I realized that you have to individually select each flight to view the price for that flight time—WHAT? This is by far the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen on an airline website in a long time. United, you are making Delta look good.)
Clicking on the lowest fare link resulted in the same view but with the low rates link now on the left and right of the page. I had no idea what the flight times were for this low rate flight, but with the baby still screaming in the background, I decided to have her click the link again, but this time in the right column. (Again, on closer inspection later, I discovered that the flight the rate was for was highlighted.)
“Frequent flyer number? I don’t know what his frequent flyer number is. I can’t do this.”
“You don’t need it, continue.” (I pleaded.)
“Date of birth?” Mumble, mumble.
“Did you just say his date of birth or yours?” (Me)
Two minutes later the phone rings again. (Swear, swear, swear.)
“I almost had it but I put in Mr and it was coming up as MrMrTim. I don’t want to
do what I did before.” (I should mention that my mom once managed to purchased a ticket for Oie Loy—not my brother’s name—while trying to book him a flight. Obviously, the airline did not let him fly as Oie Loy and made her purchase another ticket.)
Okay so we started all over got to the flight page and more swearing.
“Where is that flight? Now it’s gone. The only thing I see is $518.” (Which, in her defense, is the biggest thing on the page.)
Again we did the clicking on the lowest price link twice, and 60
minutes, 25 swear words, and one crying toddler later, the ticket was purchased.
Sigh. United Airlines, you made our experience Terrible, Horrible, No good. Please, at least display the prices for all of your flights on the search results page and display the lowest fare first, and if you could do one more thing, only ask for the absolute necessary information before purchase—you can collect a frequent flyer number after the transaction has been made.