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A tale of two airline bookings

I just booked a flight to London-Menorca on British Airways. Their online booking system is terrible. It has a nice glossy corporate look, but it just doesn’t do what you’d expect. In contrast, the Aer Lingussystem is pretty smooth and simple (although Ryanair has the simplest, best system of them all).

Booking on BA, I had to go through the UK site even though I live in Ireland, because the Irish site would only allow me book flights originating in Ireland. The system refused to even ask for my credit card. It demanded (without explanation) that I call the contact centre. When I rang them, they told me that any booking less than five days in advance has to be routed through their call centre. But they couldn’t take my credit card to finish my booking, because my credit card ssn’t billed to a UK address. They told me the Irish call centre couldn’t help me either, because they wouldn’t be able to accept payment in pounds sterling. Eventually I had to enlist the help of someone with a UK credit card.

This is an unbelieveable situation for a supposedly global airline. Why do BA have all this nonsense? Surely it isn’t to prevent fraud, because it is as easy to defraud a call centre agent as it is to rip off the website. Turning up to fly on a ticket obtained by fraud seems like it would be a pretty dumb idea too.

It also opens BA to ‘fare arbitraging’. Because they hold the booking for up to 24 hours to give you an opportunity to call them, it allows you to wait to see whether a better deal will come available through BA or another operator during that time. If a lot of people do that, the plane can become booked with people who have paid no money and made no firm commitment to buy a ticket.

None of this nonsense happens on Aer Lingus. You can fly from any airport to any other that they serve, and you don’t have to say what country you come from. They accept on-line credit card bookings all the way up to the day before the flight (and maybe even the day of the flight as well, although I’ve never tried it.) And you can’t book a ticket unless you actually pay for it.

The Aer Lingus process still isn’t as good as the Ryanair process though. Ryanair has a very simple, very fast process which gets you what you want extremely quickly. Unlike the Aer Lingus and BA processes, the ‘back’ button works as you would expect it, and you never get strange error messages, or things happening that you wouldn’t expect. Most of all, you don’t get tied up in arcane airline bureaucracy, which is what seems to happen on BA.

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  1. Aer Arann are another offender for the shitty airline website contest. I had to get my mother to call and make a booking for me recently, as (a) their website gets all the way through the booking process before telling me that “no such flight exists”, and (b) their call centre closes at 5pm GMT.

  2. At one time on the Aer Lingus website you could book a flight from Philadephia to Dublin and they would find the link to one of their airports (NY, Chicago, Boston etc) but alas most recently they only allow you to book a flight directly from the Chicago, Boston, NY-JFK etc….
    BA although retarded in their methodologies you refer to, at least they allow me to book to and from whatever airports I want.

  3. That’s because they want to avoid using the GDS’s (people like Amadeus and Sabre) to avoid having to pay them money. They want to follow the Ryanair model as closely as possible (i.e., pay no one anything unless it’s completely unavoidable, hell they should be paying us).

    Someday, the theory goes, you’ll be able to send your ‘intelligent agent’ off to do your bidding for you by talking XML to all the airline website and putting together a combination of flights to suit your needs. Then the GDS’s won’t be needed so much anymore.


  4. Ironically I went to today and Philadelphia is an option once again