How Can Airline Websites Improve?

I recently visited the mobile website for midwest-based Sun Country Airlines, where I could check a flight status, view schedules or check my itinerary. Basically everything except what I came to do: book a flight. The confusing, unattractive, user-unfriendly design of airline websites is a common complaint of travelers, and a problem that the designers at Fi (Fantasy Interactive) have attempted to solve.

Their mock website and accompanying video highlights high-quality images, visual details such as weather temperatures, street maps and city sights, and a seamless, all-in-one-screen experience from flight booking to seat selection to flight status. Their design makes the airline more than a transportation company. It makes them a travel authority, tour guide and most importantly, a source of inspiration.

This wasn’t the first attempt at an airline website overhaul. In 2009, user interface designer Dustin Curtis published an open letter to American Airlines on his website, along with his idea of a website redesign. This was followed up by an anonymous response from one of AA’s designers, who was then fired for his message to Mr. Curtis. Funny enough, his vision of a new AA.com is pretty similar to what the airline unveiled this year with their new logo, with large images, links to deals and news and an overall streamlined look.

For something completely different, check out Anna Kovecses’ minimalist and vaguely retro design for American, along with a user-generated blog community where you might leave travel tips for frequent flyer miles.Delta relaunched its site last year with features including a travel “wallet” to store receipts to make their site more “customized” to travelers. Swedish designer Erik Linden’s gorgeous layout for a new Lufthansa site can be found online, but a visit to the German airline’s official site shows the same old crowded page. JetBlue.com has been consistently appealing and easy to use, touting the “jetting” experience rather than just a seat. Travel industry news site Skift has a nifty slideshow comparing booking sites now and from their early days. (The major innovation seems to be images over hyperlinks and text.)

One thing many of these designs have in common is suggestion and inspiration. Airlines seem to assume that most of us go to their website with a firm destination in mind, burying their route map deep in a sub-menu for us to hunt down. Yet if we are to be loyal to one brand or try to use frequent flyer miles, a map of their flights is the first destination. My husband is trying to make “million miler” status with American, and tries to book with them as much as possible, maximizing the distance and number of miles. While I can search for destinations from JFK, and even sort my number of miles, it’s harder to figure out what international destinations (such as Seoul) are served from another departure city. Shouldn’t the goal be for the airline to be one you want to return to, rather than a site you quit using out of frustration?

What matters to you in using an airline’s booking site?

American Airlines’ New Look Just One Part Of Master Plan

American AirlinesAmerican Airlines is still sorting out options for how it will operate, if a merger makes sense and other restructuring-related issues in a tentative financial future. But when it comes to what they do in the air, the course has been charted and is well underway.

American’s current fleet numbers almost 900 aircraft. As part of a 2011 order for an additional 550 new aircraft, 60 will go into service this year, positioning American Airlines to be one of the most modern fleets in the air.

“Since placing our landmark aircraft order in July of 2011, we’ve been building anticipation toward a moment in time when the outside of our aircraft reflects the progress we’ve made to modernize our airline on the inside,” said Tom Horton, American’s Chairman and CEO in a press release.

American Airlines unveiled a new logo and exterior for its planes recently, including the already delivered Flagship Boeing 777-300ER aircraft set to fly on Jan. 31.

“You’ve been hearing a lot about how the modern travel experience is going to feel, ” says American Airlines President and CEO Tom Horton in this new video, “and today we’re going to show you how it’s going to look.”




What else is new for American Airlines?

Expanded International Service to more destinations worldwide, including more international and domestic routes from Dallas/Fort Worth, more European and domestic service from Chicago O’Hare, new service to Europe from New York, and new service from Miami to Latin America and the Caribbean.

An Airport Technology Update for flight attendants, pilots and maintenance workers brings real-time tablet devices to increase efficiency. Next year, passengers too will see the result of increased technology that promises to make the travel experience more enjoyable.

On-board Enhancements in premium class cabins on international routes with new china, menu choices, and restaurant-style, personalized service. Increased availability of Samsung Galaxy tablets for entertainment use in the premium cabins is coming too.

[Photo Credit- American Airlines]

Cockpit Chronicles: DC-3 Flight Over Manhattan Celebrates Mechanic’s 70 Years (With Video)

Al “Blacky” Blackman has reached a milestone few can claim. He has worked for 70 years as a mechanic for American Airlines based in New York, starting when he was only 17 years old.

Surprisingly, he has no plans to retire. “I don’t consider this work. It’s being able to do what you like and getting paid for it.”

On Tuesday last week the folks at AA threw a party for Al, his friends and his co-workers arranged for a painting sufficient in size to make even Al blush, which covered the back wall of Hangar 10 at JFK.

The next day they arranged for a few fellow employees, along with representatives from the media, to join Al in what has to be the most fitting way to mark the occasion, a ride in an original AA DC-3 around Manhattan.

The DC-3, which is operated by the non-profit Flagship Detroit Foundation, is the oldest DC-3 still flying. It is an airplane that AA operated until 1947 – five years after Al started as a mechanic.

Members of the press gathered around and asked Al a few questions before we were led across the ramp for our chance to fly with Al in the vintage airliner.

After he had a slight misstep while boarding, someone offered to hold Al’s cup of water for him. Handing it off, he joked, “You know what they say, If you can’t hold your drink … “

Soon after the 20 passengers found their seats on the plane, some remarked about the lack of air flowing through the cabin. Zane Lemon, the president of the Flagship Detroit Foundation, and our flight attendant for the trip, pointed out the gasper vents that would only supply cool air as we gained some airspeed, and the narrower seats from the time period.

“You have to remember, in the mid ’30s, the average passenger weighed 136 pounds,” he said.

“What was the average temperature?” someone quipped.

I was thrilled to be embarking on such a time-warp, even if the temperature was 95 degrees that day. A flight up the Hudson right by the Freedom Tower in a DC-3? Sign me up.
But my enthusiasm couldn’t come close to that of my friend Sebastian Toovey, dressed in an AA hat and T-shirt, who saw this as the flight of a lifetime. Sebastian’s article will appear in the October issue of Airways magazine, and the assignment was destined for him, as I’m sure you couldn’t find a bigger fan of American Airlines.

As promised, shortly after liftoff the cool air flowed as the view of the New York skyline came into view. It was explained that the flight path would take us north up the Hudson River, giving those on the right side a good view of the city followed by a turn over the George Washington Bridge that would offer the left side passengers an equal view.

The cockpit door was open, allowing those who were interested a cockpit view of the city. We managed to fly past the Freedom Tower, still under construction, which dominated the copilot’s window since we were only at 1,500 feet. It felt surreal to be in an antique airplane while puttering by New York’s newest monument.

Al pointed out the area where he attended school, the Aviation High School in Manhattan. “It was a long time ago!” He shouted over the engine noise.

It was clear that Al was enjoying himself, occasionally talking with pilots over the intercom. Instead of a southerly flight back down the Hudson, air traffic control surprised us with a direct routing from the bridge over Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge before entering the pattern at JFK. The captain later told us that this was extremely rare, and a few of us wondered what it looked like from the streets of New York.


Passing by Central Park heading north

After we parked, Sebastian asked Al to sign an info sheet that described the senior most employee at AA’s career progression. By this time, it wasn’t clear who had enjoyed the event more, Sebastian or Al.

I have to offer Kudos to American for commemorating such an accomplishment, not only of an airline employee, but for anyone who works for a living. Seventy years is nearly three full careers for most people.

And congratulations to Al, who says, “if you enjoy what you do, why stop?”

I couldn’t agree more.

Photos by the author and Nicolas Mace.

Cockpit Chronicles” takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as a captain on the MD-80 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the “Cockpit Chronicles” Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

American workers protest, say company is blaming labor AgAAin

AmericanJust a couple weeks ago, American Airlines revealed its restructuring plan, proposing to lay off 13,000 employees, terminating pensions and shutting down its Alliance base in Dallas-Fort Worth. Worried about losing their jobs, American employees are protesting.

“I understand it somewhat,” 24-year mechanic Greg Cooke, one of 300 American workers protesting at DFW this week told Star-Telegram. “But I don’t want to have to move again just to put another four years in before I retire. I’m tired of them taking and asking off of the backs of the employees.”

Protesters including pilots and members of other unions, showing their support, marched in front the DFW terminal holding signs saying “Blaming Labor AgAAin.”

Workers believe the airline needs to pay its pensions and called for an end to the “corporate greed” of executive bonuses in previous years.

American, meeting now with union leaders, said that the restructuring process is difficult but necessary and will affect all employee groups, union and nonunion alike.

“We are meeting with representatives from each union to negotiate the changes needed to make us successful, and are focused on reaching consensual agreements in the next few weeks,” spokesman Bruce Hicks said. “Our goal is to exit as a growing, profitable company that preserves tens of thousands of jobs.”


Bankruptcy for American Airlines

Flickr photo by wbaiv

Bob Crandall thinks out loud, on topics you wouldn’t expect from a former airline president

As much as American Airlines employees loved to hate Bob Crandall, their outspoken President and Chairman in the ’80s and ’90s, many are now longing for the leadership he provided not just to AA, but the entire industry. At the time, he was the Steve Jobs of the airline world.

Credited with developing the first frequent flyer program in the airline industry and pioneering modern reservations systems using SABRE, Crandall changed the business forever.

Not one to turn away from the spotlight since his retirement in 1998, he has recently started a personal blog on economic and social issues called Bob Crandall Thinks…

His common sense approaches try to be apolitical in tone, although the titles of his posts, such as Myopia and its Consequence and Morons… or Something Better? are your first indication that he’s not worried about offending anyone. He says Americans are unable to grasp the realities of our economic situation and offers some insightful suggestions on how we can fix a number of problems such as Medicare, education, job creation and taxes.

If I didn’t know any better, Mr. Crandall appears to either be running for office or trying to influence some of our leaders. Judging from the comments on his blog, he appears to be resonating with most people. Read each of his posts and see if it doesn’t make sense to you. I think you’ll be surprised at refreshing approach to problems this former airline head has to say.

Is it time for Crandall to make a Steve Jobs type of return to the airline he loved so much?