April 26, 2006

Southwest < Jetblue

every time i fly on southwest (which is, unfortunately, pretty frequently) i vow never to take that evil, devilish airline ever again. the reason? well, besides the fact that the airline hasn't departed a flight ontime in about 10 years (only on southwest will you commonly hear the line, "well, the flight was scheduled for 8:20, so i decided to arrive at the airport around 8:15 because it's southwest."), i think the airline website is a pain-in-the-ass to navigate. other people probably don't care much about this, but i find the user interaction on the site to just be incredibly difficult and kloodgy (a term that we at oracle use to describe software that differs greatly from the user's mental model). in fact, i was once in a presentation where a certain large enterprise software company touted southwest's online interface as an example of the company's great ability to service complex web applications on top of databases. i thought to myself: "hmm, southwest huh? that's unfortunate."

let's take one example: the login to your rapid rewards account on the site is incredibly stupid, requiring you to provide your southwest account number. besides people who have incredibly great memories (i think ivy has hers memorized), who in the world has the time to memorize a bajillion-digit number? there are so many ways to do a login correctly. they can use e-mail (amazon.com), SSN (fidelity), or even the tried-and-true *gasp* username (everyone) methods. any of these login id's are relatively easy to implement and save the user a fair amount of grief. instead, they choose to use a multi-digit random account number that they issue to you. that's great. good call, southwest. from a technical point of view i understand that issuing a user a primary key into your database and then having them access their records through that indexed column will be incredibly easy, but as a user i don't really give a hoot what's easier to do technically. and honestly, neither should southwest.

of course, this is just one of a host of issues i have with the website.

the reason i bring this up today is that i was randomly poking around on the jetblue site (which is generally beautiful and well-conceived) and noticed that the geniuses at jetblue have managed to obscure the whole account number thing from their users:

how in the world do they DO that? a little decision can go a long way in the world of interaction design. now if jetblue would just get some better coverage, namely SJC-LAS (note to self: you might be going to vegas a lot if you can remember the airport code), i might never have to fly southwest again. the downside? i might have to get to the airport on time for once.


At 4/26/2006 10:46:00 AM, Anonymous King said...

hm, have you ever thought that maybe southwest DIDNT want you to login and you check your stats/get free tickets? I tried to get some reward points on flights I forgot to put my little 100 digit member number during my ticket purchase and they directed me to a page which said that I had to make my request IN WRITING (no, not email, snail mail). Completely ridiculous. Anyway, it is without a doubt southwest's priority to make it as difficult as possible to use their reward system.

I love southwest because, well, i'm usually the guy who gets there 3 minutes before departing time and they've accomodated me. HA. Plus, their fares are best in the business ... low on frills, high on alcohol vouchers.

At 4/26/2006 10:47:00 AM, Anonymous King said...

Plus, jetblue does not service san diego. F**K jetblue.

At 4/26/2006 01:27:00 PM, Blogger Chris L said...

Hrm, I'm actually a fan of Southwest, and their website.

Not that I've flown that much, but I've never experience major delays on Southwest. Also, I find their website rather easy to use (from searching to booking flights), albiet slightly primative looking. While I see your point about the RapidRewards login name, keep in mind flight scheduling/reservation is also a system that is meant for offline use, where a RapidRewards # really is the primary identifier. Thus, I think the lack of user name/e-mail login is actually intentional, in order to have users associate 1 key with their account (using SSN would never fly [haha] due to privacy concerns). It's a design and UI choice they made, which is certainly arguable. But I don't think they set it up a certain way just so they can have an easily searchable primary key.

At 4/26/2006 01:46:00 PM, Blogger smallchou said...

that is an interesting idea, that they use it to have one way of accessing the account offline and online, but if they're still expecting the vast majority of people to be accessing their accounts solely offline they must be crazy.

i think it's akin to credit card companies, all of whom generally have you access your account by 16-digit number offline and by username online. they do this for the ease of the user. southwest does not. either that or they're not thinking very hard.

At 4/26/2006 05:37:00 PM, Anonymous king said...

yup, jack hit it right on the head with the credit card parallel. And couldnt Southwest auotmatically hook up your rewards numbers to your name when booking the flight to avoid typing in the rewards number? No, they wouldnt do that or else people would be building rewards points without any effort. I understand that people could just start using false names to book flights (why?) but there are safe guards in place to ensure the ticket holder matches his/her id. Wells Fargo allows me to create a non-ssn member login so why cant southwest? weak sauce.

At 4/26/2006 08:44:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Southwest has two things going for it. The first is the point to point service it provides between non-hub cities like if I want to go from Albuquerque to Las Vegas without having to stop in Phoenix or Denver. The other is the predictable price structure that they offer.

What Southwest doesn't have going for it is its refusal to let travel sites search their fares for comparison to other airlines. I would complain about the inability to search nearby dates for better fares, but that's moot since their pricing is so predictable anyway.

As an aside, I don't like the fact that Wells Fargo limited my password length to 8 characters (at least at the time I set mine up). 8? That's the minimum number of characters I need for a password at work. Also, SJC is an incredibly ghetto airport compared to DEN, PHX, LVS, ABQ, or even TUL. Oh yes, Tulsa has a nicer airport even if it reeks of 1970's architecture.


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