After attempting to use the Qantas online check-in service, JOHN HARRIS wonders if the airline is using its website as part of a cunning plan to eliminate unwanted passengers.
If a great web presence is the key to success in the 21st century, the skies are dark for Qantas.
After numerous futile attempts to use the airline’s online check-in system, I’m just glad Qantas can fly its planes better than it manages its website.
This week’s column is written from the departure lounge of Wellington Airport, after my daughter and I visited family in New Zealand last weekend.
It was a straightforward journey, from Adelaide to Wellington via Sydney and back, all booked through www.qantas.com using Frequent Flyers points.
The day before departure, I decided to use Qantas’ online check-in service to expedite our arrival at the airport.
Earlier this year, I’d found online check-in a quick and easy process when my family flew to and from Taiwan with Singapore Airlines.
After entering my Frequent Flyer details, the website confirmed that online check-in was available for my flights. I identified the travelling passengers and requested aisle seats for various flights.
Then, instead of progressing to a screen that produced a boarding pass, it took me back to the start of the process – with the assurance that online check-in was now available for my flight.
When it happens once, I blame myself for missing an essential step. When it happens four times in a row, I begin to suspect the website is not working.
During the next 12 hours, I repeated process using three different computers and several different web browsers. Eventually I gave up and checked in at the airport.
At the front of the Qantas queue, I was told to check in at the Jetstar counter because Qantas Flight 5671 was a code-share flight run by its subsidiary.
At the front of the Jetstar queue, I was told that no online check-in was available for that flight – completely contrary to the message on the Qantas website.
The fact is that after two flights on my Qantas-booked trip, I am yet to travel on a Qantas plane as the Sydney-Wellington flight was operated by a company called JetConnect.
When I checked in at Wellington Airport, I was handed tickets for the flights to Sydney and then on to Adelaide, with the latter tickets allocating a window seat for the late-night flight.
When I mentioned my aisle seat booking via the Qantas website – not to mention a 20-year Frequent Flyer preference - the check-in operator referred me to her supervisor, who claimed to be too busy dealing with an overbooked flight to do anything.
The bottom line is that online customer self-service only benefits customers and businesses if it works.
While the flight booking engine on the Qantas usually functions, its online check-in and seat allocation facility is dysfunctional.
With clumsily designed web pages cluttered by offers to rent cars, book hotel rooms and eat at restaurants, the site makes it hard to use.
As I fly back across the Tasman, I’m left wondering whether the Qantas website design is part of a cunning plan by the airline to repel Frequent Flyer and discount economy passengers to other budget airlines so it can dedicate its capacity to more valuable passengers.
If so, it has worked: After flying on hundreds of Qantas flights, this dysfunctional website and disdainful customer service have put a bee in my bonnet to check out other airlines.
John Harris is managing director of Impress Media Australia. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.