I love flying with you, you are one of my favourite airlines. But this evening, your technology let me down. Earlier this evening I attempted through your website, multiple times to buy air tickets for my brother and sister in law. They are coming back from Thailand to South Africa (yay!). This meant that I got to experience your booking process. These are my observations.
- When I arrive on your website, my default location is Mauritius and my language is English. My IP address is South African based, and you are the South African National carrier. So perhaps it makes sense to default the location to South Africa. I did not notice this, nor pay it any attention on my first attempt to buy these two airline tickets.
- I enter the required information to book this flight. It should depart from Bangkok and arrive in Johannesburg. I have selected that it is a one way flight, and I click the “Find Flights” button. At this point I am optimistic.
- I then reach the page that allows me to make a selection of flights. All of these options are displayed in Thailand Baht (THB). I am somewhat surprised but eagerly continue to select a flight.
- I am taken to the next page where I fill in all of the passenger details. I note that gender options are binary and only extend to male or female. (This feature may need to change in the future as more countries recognise gender unspecified “x”). I click through to the next page. The prices are still displayed in Baht with no option to change the currency.
- It is at this point that I can select seats. This is where I encountered my first hurdle on multiple attempts, where after selecting seats that are displayed as valid, once I click the “confirm and close” button, I encounter the error message: “At least one of your specific seat requests could not be processed. (4631 – 4360)”. After multiple tries I eventually manage to book seats for both legs of the flight. It is the Bangkok to Hong Kong leg of the flight that was causing the error. There appears to be a need for better communication between SAA and Hong Kong Air’s systems.
- I am now approaching the finish line, or so I believe in my naivete. At this point I have reached the payment stage, and this is where it all falls apart. I expected to be presented with a payment page, and since this is a South African page serving a South African client I expected the page to show me the amount in South African Rand (ZAR) (possibly with an approximate conversion of Thailand Baht. Instead I encounter yet another error. This time it says: “There was an error processing your request. Please contact your local SAA office.” Unfortunately this message is neither hyperlinked to a list of local SAA offices nor to a contact page.
- I search the internet and find an out of commission number. My brother in law who has been Skyping with me the entire time, tells me to try phone 0861-FlySAA. After being on hold for a while I reach a customer service representative. She tells me that I can log on and pay for these tickets. That is not the case. She then tells me that the reason that there is no payment option is because the transaction is in Thai Baht and that I can only pay for the tickets at an airport with a South African Airways office. She suggests that I re-book the tickets after changing my location to South Africa.This marks the beginning of attempt two
- I return to the initial booking page and after changing my location to South Africa (keeping my language in English). I enter the requisite flight details and click through to the next page. The prices initially display in THB, after about 30 seconds the prices display in South African Rand. I celebrate, while still on the line with the call center agent.
- I enter all of the details and repeat step 5. I can see the finish line as I click through to the payment page.
- Fantastic! A page that displays an amount in South African Rand and a form to complete my credit card details. YAY! I get a booking reference number. I believe that all is well.time passes
- I receive a notification from FNB that they have reversed the transaction. I contact them. Apparently, they cannot un-reverse a transaction.This marks the beginning of attempt three to six.
- I go to the booking homepage. I set my location to South Africa. I repeat steps 2 to 6.
- Tomorrow I will go to the airport and purchase these tickets.
Based on my observations, I have some recommendations:
- First off, do some user testing. I know that there is the very true joke in development circles, “I don’t often test my software, but when I do I test it in production.” This is a bad joke for a reason.
- Secondly give the user an opportunity to select their currency.
- Improve the communication between different airline’s systems and give the user an opportunity to skip choosing their seats.
- Your error messages need to be more meaningful for the end users. Tell me which seats can’t be booked, and if possible link the messages to an additional helpful step.
I don’t really believe that anything will change on the basis of this post, but I feel better for getting it off my chest. It is also a good small scale user test example.
Love and user testing,
Edit: The saga continues
Edit date: 3 August 2018
Tomorrow came today. I head off to Lanseria airport in order to try and pay for this reservation. In my interaction with the call center agent, she had been very adamant that I could pay at any airport. I specifically asked if I could pay at Lanseria airport and I was pointedly told again that I could pay at any airport. I believe that Lanseria International Airport fits under the category of “any airport”.
I arrive at the airport feeling cautiously optimistic. I approach the information kiosk and I am told that there is no SAA office specifically at the airport but I am directed to the Mango airlines desk which shares some of its operations with SAA.
I am decidedly less optimistic as I approach the Mango desk where I explain my predicament to the lovely lady behind the counter. She is apologetic in her explanation that I need to go to O R Tambo international airport (53 – 86 km away depending on the route). I ask the lovely lady if I can vent. She kindly lets me, and was very sympathetic to my plight.
I decide to have breakfast at the viewing deck so that I can at least have a reason to have been a trip to the airport. The eggs benedict were mediocre but the service was excellent.
At this point I decide to go to a travel agent. I went to Flight Center in Cradlestone Mall, where I was assisted very competently and kindly by a lady named Sherrine. I left within 30 minutes having successfully bought tickets on the same flights as I was attempting to last night.
The extensive time spent on SAA’s website last night served me well, when I was able to reserve seats (the same ones as yesterday) using the “Manage my booking” functionality.
I also realised that I had become rather fixated on the solution to the problem being buying SAA tickets instead of trying to fly with another airline.
Love and (eventual) successfully purchasing flight tickets,