Good airline websites have come a long way.

For anyone who often travels abroad, you might be familiar with the cumbersome process of booking a flight online. As a regular traveller, I have to admit that I often struggle with some airline websites. In my defense, no one has to be a tech nerd to find and book a flight online: the whole steps should be stress-free.

Nevertheless, airline websites have come a long way. ‘Airline web sites have improved dramatically since the early days of the world-wide Web’, says Market Watch. Gone are the days of complex, heavy-loading airline web design. The procedure of buying a ticket has been drastically simplified and the instructions have become much more comprehensive.   

But that doesn’t mean that users’ pain points have magically disappeared. My own experience tells me that the current airline websites still face some key usability issues that need to be addressed to sell more tickets and retain customers.

The importance of usability in selling

Not so long ago, an article in Smashing Magazine caught my attention. Despite that airline websites are doomed to be information-heavy by nature, a closer attention to UX can help reduce that complexity and focus on the most essential content users often look for.

Why should airline industries prioritise usability in web design? Unclear directions and confusing visual hierarchy are the No.1 reason why people drop out before completing a transaction. Keeping in mind that their purpose is to inspire and motivate users to make a purchase, usability is something that cannot be compromised.

Transparency: no hiding, no tricks.

Many airline companies of today seem to agree that clean and minimalist design is critical and desirable.

That said, few companies like Turkish Airlines still embrace cluttering design that may off-put some customers. Right after landing on their homepage, my eyes went straight to the overwhelming deals and promotions widget.  

The nuance the website sends is that the site is hiding the most crucial information away from the customers, by overwhelming them with a lot of secondary information.

On the other hand, user-friendly and navigable websites like those of Norwegian Airlines and KLM have a less prominent promotions areas – usually found one or two scrolls away.

Booking a flight

Booking a return flight online can be a daunting experience. Nowadays most airline companies are using a widget where a user provides necessary information: dates, destination and so on. There is a various way to execute this seemingly simple process. As highlighted by Smashing Magazine, you’re more likely to see something like this below where users have to type in every detail in one-go:

Now let’s have a look at Virgin’s in comparison, as the company  ‘opts to draw out the process, pushing a lot of the work to later screens, but it feels more guided.
This simply highlights how these two unique ways of collecting the very similar information can lead to completely different user experiences.  

Check-in process

Flight check-in is something that I don’t particularly enjoy. The whole steps involved, from typing in your booking code, personal details to changing/upgrading your seat, often end up taking longer than expected.

My experience with American Airlines’ was a bit of nightmare as my seat didn’t turn out to be the same seat which I specifically chose and upgraded to using their website’s seating plan. 

Perhaps more importantly, some websites are just difficult to find the ‘check-in’ button from homepage. Assumingly this action is one of the top reasons why users visit their websites, I have trouble understanding why some make it less straightforward to perform this action. 

(Check-in link is nowhere to be found on Emirates’ website at the first glance.)

Mobile experience

What’s worse, some make it close to impossible to check-in on mobile phone. Instead of responsive website, KLM tries to persuade me to download their app. (But as a non-frequent flyer, I just don’t see the point of downloading their app that will only eat up lots of storage!)

Air France, in contrast, offers a seamless and easy-to-follow mobile web experience.    

Transparent and interactive design

Airline companies have left the obsolete and overly ostentatious web design behind. But where has the fun gone? It is exciting to see creative and interactive web campaigns like SwissAir’s World of Swiss. But as soon as you go to their official website, the fun seems to get replaced by a more corporate feel. 

So how can airline industries digitise trust, transparency as well as pleasant experience simultaneously? Virgin airlines seems to have cracked the code by simply adopting a friendlier tone of voice and interactive design detail.

(‘When you get to selecting a seat, the occupied areas are adorned with silly faces.’ on Virgin America’s site.)

The final note

In addition to seamless user experience, the most successful websites are those that ‘invoke an emotional response and ties in with a wider message or branding strategy’. And the best ones also know the exact demographics they want to connect with – in the case of Virgin Airlines, young, tech-savvy urbanites, who’d appreciate the brand’s playful tone of voice.   

What do you think?

Appnova is a digital agency specialising in web design, UX, eCommerce, mobile app development, branding, content marketing and social media.

Keep following us on Twitter @appnova and “like” us on Facebook for useful news and tasteful digressions about geeky stuff.



Leave a Comment