Every year I travel to Demo with eager anticipation, but as we all know, travel is not always fun. One of the major improvements in travel is the ability to print out a boarding pass at home before heading for the airport. American Airlines has made a lot of progress with aa.com over the recent years and I am sure it has been difficult coping with the integration of numerous legacy systems. Unfortunately, I have written about airline woes before involving breakdowns in the American systems and last night I experienced yet another one. The aa.com site asked for a record locator and I entered the one I had. No flights came up. As an alternative I entered my name and flight number. Nothing. A call to the 800# resulted in the all too familiar, "we don’t know anything about the web site. You will have to talk to technical support". This did not seem like a technical problem to me and after a few minutes with the tech rep the problem was cleared up. The record locator I had was from American Express Travel. American uses a different locator code and of course there is no linkage. No problem, however, according to the tech rep, because you can just enter your name and flight #. If that doesn’t work, the rep said, then enter your first name, a space and then your middle initial in the first name field. Bingo. That worked. "Happens all the time", the rep said. Some travel agents include the middle initial, it was explained, but aa.com doesn’t have a middle name field on the site. Actually, he volunteered, all international flights require a middle initial. If all international flights require a middle initial and if it "happens all the time" that people have to call and hold and then be transferred and hold to be told to enter their middle initial, wouldn’t you think that aa.com would quickly add a middle initial field? If that is a major systems change for some reason, would it be hard to just put some small red letters under the name field that say "if you do not find your flight reservation, please include your middle initial, e.g. “John R.” Would that be hard to implement? The boarding passes printed nicely on the IBM Infoprint 1354 Color printer. Upon arriving at the airport early this morning, I unconsciously went to the self check-in kiosk. There was no one in line so I was just attracted to it. After swiping my card and entering my flight number, a message said "We are unable to check you in. Please see a reservations agent". There happened to be one standing there so I showed her my ID and she checked her system. "You are already checked in", she said. Ok, I was the dummy who forgot that I had checked in, but why did her system knew that but the kiosk system didn’t? Is this a technical problem? Or, like the middle initial problem, is it a case of not thinking about the messages that get displayed and not thinking about the customer experience. I wonder if the top execs of airlines actually use their systems.
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