Wednesday, October 12, 2011

One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Flaw

One of the current technology trends, mobile computing, continues to be a source of excitement for me with new innovations appearing almost every day. I've been sent a text message to tell me my table is ready, captured and broadcast live video and paid for my coffee with my phone just since I started blogging.

Long before that I was thrilled when my phone (then a blackberry) became my electronic boarding pass. Being a frequent flyer makes you appreciate anything that takes the sting out of that trip to airport, or more specifically, the journey from the parking lot to the airplane seat. What could be better than flashing the screen of my smart phone at the security check point and slipping on through. I usually print my boarding pass before leaving home. It's not much of a chore and having the hard copy in my back pocket always gave me a sense of comfort, a fall back plan in case something went wrong with the phone.

But the return leg was always the issue. There, quite often, there was no time or means of printing the boarding pass in advance and so it was over to the ticket counter or kiosks you go to get the little slip of paper needed to get to the gate. Even on the way out, the pre-printed boarding pass might have bad information and so checking the monitors and stopping to get a new printed boarding pass was not unusual.

But with this new capability my boarding pass was always available, current and accurate, and I could call it up at any time to review flight details, pass security or actually board the plane. Holding the smart phone under the scanner allowed the airline system to make that happy little chirping sound which means proceed on through.

I almost always use electronic boarding passes including my recent business trip to upstate New York and perhaps because the flights were between major cities, or by sheer luck I had never run afoul of the known flaw.

My flight out was significantly delayed due to a traffic delay with the inbound equipment. That's fancy airline speak for the plane taking you to your destination hasn't arrived here yet. After a small eternity waiting at the gate we were asked to line up and present our credentials to board. Out came my smart phone and in just a few swipes and taps I was provided a screen of information about the status of my reservation - but no boarding pass. Jumping back to the original email from the airline I clicked on the link and get the same status page.

At this point I am now that passenger we all hate who is holding up the boarding process. Fortunately, I had printed a boarding pass from the latest email that morning. But it turned out that was the boarding pass from my return flight. As my arrangements had all been made by my client I could produce absolutely no documentation. Preparing to plead my case and sweating profusely, I was relieved when the gate agent casually mentioned the known flaw. Here you go, he said, you are in seat 3C. Have a nice flight.

It turns out the airlines are fully aware that shortly after your originally scheduled departure time passes you can no longer retrieve a boarding pass regardless of long you are delayed and the actual departure time. Why this flaw has not been addressed is beyond me. Leave it to these geniuses to find a way to turn efficiency and a customer benefit into a black eye.

Given the track record for on-time departures I better continue to obtain a hard copy before heading for the gate.

Captain Joe

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  1. The problem is that there is no longer sufficient time allowed to profoundly TEST any software system, like we used to do many years ago (I started my IT career as such a tester).

    One thing that has NOT changed is the fact that programmers have NO CLUE about HOW their nice systems are used by the 'end-user'.

    Hence your predicament with modern day boarding systems. ;-)

  2. Francois: I guess what astounded me was my gate agent, and I suspect many others, are fully aware of the flaw and know how to deal with it. How does a problem like this exist long enough for everyone in the field to know about it? Why hasn't it been fixed or customers alerted to the issue?