Common UX Pain Points for Airline Customers


Robyn Collinge

June 21, 2016

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Thanks to ongoing technological and UX advances, users have become used to an increase in choice, personalization, and comfort in their online interactions. However, when it comes to the airline industry, this standard is proving hard to live up to. As Ascend for Airlines explains, “Airlines face genuine technical problems in aggregating the information passengers are looking for across multiple systems with different protocols and standards. Synthesising and delivering the information to an ever-evolving variety of platforms — from desktop PCs to smartphones to tablets — is a serious added complication”. With so many different systems in place, the margin for error is high meaning the customer experience can be significantly impacted.

One of the great things about our feedback software is the amount of data we have when it comes to identifying customer pain points across specific industries. So, recently we decided to take to the skies and gather our data from the aviation sector to produce a pretty neat User Feedback Trends report.

The end result breaks down over 24,000 feedback items collected from Central European airlines in the first quarter of 2016. From this data we observed that on a scale of 5, the average mood rating of customers using airline websites was 2.4, with only 30% of customers rating themselves as satisfied. The majority of the feedback was submitted on desktop (59%), however mobile users reported the highest levels of overall satisfaction – with an average mood rate of 2.8. Of the feedback received, 19,755 items were specific items; from these results we were able to identify the top 4 problem areas for the aviation industry when it comes to customer experience.

Search & Navigation

As soon as a user lands on your page, their customer experience begins. Simple navigation and search functions are vital to ensure this is a seamless process. However, ‘search and navigation’ was the largest problem area identified in our report, with 37% of negative feedback specifically referencing it. And if the user isn’t able to find the flights they want, they’re obviously not going to be able to book them.

The initial search process must be as clear as possible, catering to customers with specific needs as well as those performing a vague, more flexible search. We found that the calendar view, despite being a useful function, often has the potential for causing confusion. Should it scroll vertically or horizontally? What is the ideal number of months to display at one time? Should different dates with lower prices be displayed? One airline that we think uses this function well is Ryanair (yes, you heard right). The airline website may have been a thing of usability nightmares in the past, but their smart calendar function does not overwhelm the user with information. The customer can simply slide through different dates to compare prices, and when the departure date is altered, the return date calendar automatically slides across to the days following this date.

A responsive calendar function is also ideal when flights are not available on the specific search dates. The Emirates website lets customers down here, failing to offer alternative dates or options when certain date/destination combinations can’t be met. One thing we do enjoy about the Emirates search experience however, is the ‘Inspire Me’ feature. This allows the user to input selected information about their ideal trip, then offers several different options of destinations and prices.

It’s important for airlines to pay attention to general best practices for search functionality. The home pages of both KLM and Cathay Pacific are clean, spacious and present just enough content to ensure a smooth navigation process. Although, as a result of the minimal design, the CTA buttons can sometimes blend into the page – don’t neglect the basics.

It’s worth pointing out that search and navigation was the top problem area across desktop, tablet and mobile devices. And with the modern passenger using multiple devices to research and book their trip, airlines need to equally invest in all three platforms to ensure a smooth cross-device booking flow.

UX Tip: Don’t overwhelm your user, whitespace can be your friend

Booking & Payment

Booking and paying for a flight is a big deal for a lot of customers. It’s often something users have saved up for and paying a significant amount of money in one sitting can be unsettling. An error in the booking and payment process can cause a lot of unnecessary stress – which is reflected in the 22% of negative feedback specific to this element of the booking flow.

Most airlines have between five and seven steps in their checkout process – including travel dates, flight selection, upsells, seat selection, payment, and confirmation. It’s crucial to keep users actively engaged throughout this procedure so any frustrations don’t drag on longer than necessary. A solution many airlines adopt is to highlight the selected flight and price and fix them in the sidebar, that way they remain in view.

Another key point to keep in mind throughout the booking process is currency. Sites like KLM automatically alter the currency when the customer changes their country selection. This minimizes the chance of confusion and adds an element of security for the user. Alongside the currency of the booking, fare families can also be unnecessarily complex for users. Yusuf Duman, UX Project Lead at Turkish Airlines, understands that their customer’s first priority is often price. Therefore, he recommends a redesign of the booking flow that makes fare families and their regulations more apparent to users, in order to enhance the customer experience. 

According to the Google Travel Trends report from November 2015, “46% of travellers who do mobile travel research say they made their final booking decision on mobile, but moved to another device to make the booking.” This suggests that customers aren’t necessarily finding what they need from airline companies on mobile.

That being said, only 9% of the negative feedback given from mobile devices was about booking and payment, ranking it the lowest problem area for this platform. This suggests that there aren’t technical issues per se, but perhaps the absence of a feeling of security when it comes to making large payments on a mobile device.

UX Tip: Small steps like setting the default currency using the visitor’s IP address can make your user feel more secure

Booking Management

The customer experience is not only limited to the search and booking stages; after sales is a key process if airlines want to build long-term customer relationships. The option of seat selection, adding luggage, or investing in partner companies for amenities like insurance or rental cars should be offered without spamming your customer. KLM successfully achieves this with their minimalist page design; the options for adding extra luggage etc. are there but they don’t have an overwhelming presence, just a simple option to select or not. Ryanair however, presents a page filled with ads and deals, masking the ‘continue to check out’ option in the upper corner of the page so that most users continue to scroll.

Customers who need to manage or amend their flight booking are likely to already be facing an issue, so it’s important that this process flows as seamlessly as possible. When it comes to booking management, there’s been a big increase in airlines turning to social media to offer assistance to their customers. In fact, some of the biggest airlines in the world are establishing themselves as leading brands in their own right on social media. Alongside offering interactive apps such as ‘Blue Legends’ through their Facebook page – where passengers are rewarded with ranks and badges for virtually checking in to Lufthansa airports, lounges and flights – Lufthansa can use information from the social platform to rebook the flight of a passenger stuck in freeway traffic. This direct, personal interaction with the passenger not only improves their customer experience but gives the airline more time to sell their seat to a standby traveller. KLM are also notoriously innovative in their social strategy, where they say they are reachable 24/7 in 13 languages and update their Twitter profile every 5 minutes with expected reply times. Their most recent campaign sees the launch of a service whereby customers can receive their flight documentation via Facebook Messenger, ensuring it’s easily accessible from any device.

Brands like Lufthansa and KLM really demonstrate the opportunity for airlines to go above and beyond when it comes to customer experience. With booking management there’s a lot of room for creative problem solving, yet strategies must constantly evolve to ensure airlines are keeping up with their customer’s social preferences. As Glenn Morgan, head of service transformation at British Airways, explains “Twitter is here today. But what about WhatsApp? BBM? We have to go where the customer is.”

UX Tip: Don’t be afraid to get social, be innovative in your campaigns and relate to your customer

Check in

Checking in can be stressful. You’re in a rush, anxious about your baggage weight, and mentally preparing yourself for the struggle of security. Plus, as other industries continue to put paperless systems in place, people are becoming less likely to have access to a printer.

Airlines have already began combatting this issue by introducing mobile apps which store the passenger’s boarding pass, allowing them to scan it on arrival to check in. However, it appears there is still significant room for improvement.

Although mobile users were the most satisfied overall by device, 31% of negative mobile feedback directly addressed the check in process. This number was significantly lower for both desktop and tablet users, 13% and 6% respectively. Perhaps this could be a result of more customers using mobile devices, and therefore more margin for error; or, it could be that although airlines are investing in mobile specific apps, there’s still a long way to go with ensuring a seamlessly integrated mobile experience.

A user may well search via mobile, book via desktop and check in via tablet. Airlines need to pay attention to this shift in user behaviour and make sure they invest in the cross-device user experience.

UX Tip: Design for cross-device behaviour, synergy is the new black


As consumers continue to expect customization as part of daily life, airlines need to follow in the best practice footsteps of other industries. Although loyalty programs and mobile apps have already proved a step in the right direction, these processes must be continually optimized.

Innovations like Biometric IDs and radio frequency identification tags for tracking luggage are certainly making an impact on a smooth passenger experience. But perhaps airlines need to adopt a ‘back to basics’ approach and focus on the part that takes place before any of this, the actual booking. The second a user searches for a flight, their customer experience begins; ensure UX is used to its full potential in creating a seamless customer experience that establishes lasting and loyal relationships.

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