reDesign

July 4, 2010

United’s mobile check in not ready for takeoff

Filed under: advertising, airlines, customer service, mobile, ui, wireless — Tags: — Rakesh Agrawal @ 8:00 am

On my last trip, I had the opportunity to try United’s mobile check-in and mobile boarding passes. The promise is paper-free check in. It sounds really great, but it’s not quite there. Partly it’s due to United’s horrible user interface, partly the newness that gate agents aren’t accustomed to it.

The user interface rarely misses an opportunity to add extra steps.

  • When online check-in opens up, United sends you an email reminding you to check in. But clicking on the link in the email takes you to the full browser version. (It should automatically redirect you to the corresponding page on the mobile site if you’re on a mobile browser.)
  • When you go to http://mobile.united.com, you have to enter your confirmation number (who remembers these?), e-ticket number (ditto), Mileage Plus number (I don’t remember it despite being a top tier flier for years) or email address (long to type). There’s no way to just cookie your email address or MP number for all future check ins.
  • You’re presented with upsells, including the ridiculously overpriced Award Accelerator. (No way to say “I never ever want this.”)
  • After you finally check in, you’d think you get a boarding pass. But now you have to enter an email address to send the boarding pass to. (Never mind that you just logged into your account with an email address; it’s not prepopulated.)
  • You’d think, “OK, now, I’ll get an email with the boarding pass.” Nope. You get an email for each segment. Neither of which contains a boarding pass, but a link to a boarding pass.
  • Instead of using one link tied to your record, there is a link for each flight. If you click on the email for the wrong flight, you can’t just flip to the other flight. You have to go back and open a different email.
  • When you finally get to the boarding pass, you see a 2D bar code read by the scanner, along with your flight and seat information in text.

After doing all of this, I went to the airport without any paper. First step: security. The TSA agent looks at my ID and phone to compare names. He then has me hold my phone over a reader. It beeps and lights up in green. Good to go. At the gate, I hold my phone over the reader. Beep. Green. Board.

At the gate for my connection in Denver, I get paged because the agent wanted me to swap seats with someone else. She asks for my boarding pass. When I say I’ve got a mobile one, she prints out a boarding pass with a new seat assignment. Being a geek, I refresh the screen and see that it shows the new seat and ditch the paper. Unfortunately it doesn’t scan and she has to board me manually.

Leaving SFO, I had to standby for an earlier flight because of weather. Although the boarding pass initially showed my standby status, somewhere along the way that disappeared. (Causing me to panic and race to the big screens in the gate area to verify that I was still on the list.) When I cleared standby, the agent called me up and issued a paper boarding pass. The link I had showed no boarding pass.

In a future ideal world, my phone would beep when I cleared the standby list, I’d click to accept and the screen would show the updated boarding pass. It would free up the mob around the gate, let me get a drink or food and get the plane out faster.

In Denver, my original mobile boarding pass was still valid. It took some fiddling to get it to scan. I thought 2-D bar codes could be held in any direction, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

Note that although the boarding pass is generated dynamically, the information is static. If your flight is delayed, you won’t see that reflected. You’ll have to go back to http://mobile.united.com and enter your flight information. It also self destructs after a flight, so if you need documentation for business purposes or making sure you get your frequent flier miles, you might want to stick with paper. (In theory, it shouldn’t be needed for miles purposes, but I don’t like to rely on theory when it comes to airlines.)

More on: airlines

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6 Comments »

  1. Sigh. This is why user flows & use cases are a good idea while in the design phase.

    Comment by Carol Glover — August 20, 2010 @ 7:51 am

  2. What is the advantage of a mobile boarding pass over a printed pass?…

    On airlines that support it, you shouldn’t have to show a boarding pass at the gate. There’s another scanner there. The primary advantage (in theory) is that you don’t have to have access to a printer and don’t have to wait in line for a kiosk. It…

    Trackback by Quora — January 2, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

  3. Uncommonly unusual blog post.

    Comment by Jayme Shipmen — June 29, 2011 @ 9:48 pm

  4. What can airlines and airports do today to increase efficiency and reduce annoyance/stress?…

    I agree with many of Michael Wolfe’s points. Here’s a few others: * Push back on the insanity and idiocy that is the TSA. These are your customers who are being harassed. Virtually everyone in the industry knows the agency is a joke and doesn’t do a…

    Trackback by Quora — August 20, 2011 @ 12:03 am

  5. Long way to go until we get closer to the future of airline apps… more in an old post here: http://shearwaterblog.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/guest-post-a-different-look-at-the-future-of-airline-mobile-apps/

    Comment by Daniele Beccari — August 25, 2011 @ 9:02 am

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