A curious thing about a few airline sites 04 Apr 2005

49 comments Latest by Villastogo

I’m curious… Why do you think both JetBlue and Southwest don’t allow you to search for a flight directy from their home page? Virtually every other airline I’ve checked (American, United, Delta, Continental…) has a reservation widget on the front, but JetBlue and Southwest don’t.

Keeping the forms on a separate page really clears up the page for larger form fields, clearer instructions, and less distractions. But is that really better? Those little mini form widgets on most airline/travel sites always make me a little anxious, but I still like the fact that I can dive right in and check a flight.

If anyone reading this post works for JetBlue or Southwest I’d love to interview you and your team about these decisions. Please get in touch.

49 comments so far (Jump to latest)

typeweight 04 Apr 05

There must be a negative correlation between usability and profitability.

Chris from Scottsdale 04 Apr 05

Southwest and JetBlue are (last I heard) making a profit.

Jeff Smith 04 Apr 05

I wholeheartedly agree Darren. Westjet’s site is a treat to use, and is definitely one of the reasons that I book with them over any other Canadian carrier.

Darrel 04 Apr 05

There must be a negative correlation between usability and profitability.

You’d think that. That said, there seems to be no shortage of unusable products/web sites out there.

Perhaps brute-force marketing can make up for poor usability. Seems to be a terribly ineffecient way to go about it, though.

That said, I wouldn’t say JetBlue’s site isn’t usable. The home page is quite clean. It’s not too hard to figure where to go to actually buy your ticket.

Jamie 04 Apr 05

Aren’t JetBlue and Southwest discount carriers? Maybe discount carriers don’t have the infrastructure in place to make this possible.

Jon Gales 04 Apr 05

“Maybe discount carriers don�t have the infrastructure in place to make this possible.”

Well they both (Southwest and JetBlue) have said forms, just not on the front page. It’s not an infrastructure thing, but a design thing.

Darren James Harkness 04 Apr 05

Jamie - I might agree, but Westjet is also a discount carrier, and they’ve put a lot of effort into making their site easy to use.

Usability isn’t necessarily an expensive activity, and doesn’t need a massive infrastructure to accomplish. In both cases, the airline websites already have the reservation functionality on the site - it’s just not as easy to get to, nor is it placed as a focus for the site (which, to Jason’s point, is a little weird, considering you think the reason most people are there are to book cheap flights, not to learn about the airline).

evan 04 Apr 05

i think jamie’s right - because they’re discount carriers, and they cover way less ground than the bigger carriers. they service about half as much airports in the US, so they’re search results to get from point a to point b may either include other carriers, or the results wouldn’t be very appealing to the customer (i.e. i want to land in richmond, va, and the closest they get is DC).

i also think they may rely heavily on sites like orbitz or expedia rather than their own. (might be contractuaul)

but then again, i could be totally wrong and they just don’t want to gum up their homepage :)

Jamie 04 Apr 05

Jon and Darren, yes I see. It will be interesting to see a 37BetterAirlines solution. ;)

evan 04 Apr 05

oh right, flying to DC was just an example, i wasn’t sure if they serviced there or not. but for example, on the west coast, southwest doesn’t service SFO (san francisco international), but rather service oakland airport which is just a bit away, unlike the bigger carriers which service both.

so, i thought that could be a reason. but like i said, i could be completely wrong.

oh, and i didn’t want to interview them… jason does. :)

One of several Steves 04 Apr 05

I think it’s the same philosophy as not serving meals; offer fewer options to keep fares lower. OK, maybe not.

It is curious that they both do this. What would be even more curious is to see if the homepage reservations forms on AA, UAL, etc. get used more than the full forms. I know that when I go to an airline site, I always go to the full reservation form and don’t use the short one on the homepage, because I do want the greater control I get with the full form.

It does appear that only JetBlue and Southwest are foregoing the homepage form; other discount carriers like AirTran and ATA have them.

By the way, Evan, neither Southwest nor JetBlue have any reliance on third-party travel sites, since neither lists their fares with any of the travel sites like Expedia and Orbitz.

Tommy 04 Apr 05

Actually DC and St. Louis are too pretty big “hubs” for Southwest, so my example wasn’t really fair, just happens to be where I’ve lived lately.

I also hope Jason gets the interview. I shouldn’t try to work and post at the same time :).

Tim Uruski 04 Apr 05

Wow, it looks like AOL is flexing the Ajax mojo. Pinpoint Travel is pretty compelling as a website that feels like an application.

evan 04 Apr 05

one of the steves - you’re right… found this in orbitz’s help section…

“Orbitz no longer offers fares from JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines on our site. In the past, the fares provided on those airlines often were unavailable, which caused consumer complaints for all parties. Orbitz reached agreements with both airlines to stop carrying their fares because of that issue. If, in the future, JetBlue and Southwest would like to sell seats on Orbitz with the same real-time availability we show for other airlines, Orbitz would gladly welcome them back.”

maybe they just don’t know how to put the form on the homepage? ;)

Jamie 04 Apr 05

Evan, that Pinpoint travel site is very interesting. Thanks for the heads up!

pb 04 Apr 05

I think someone said it but it’s because JetBlue and Southwest have fairly limited route maps. And even then, it’s possibly a better user experience.

Tommy 04 Apr 05

Question. Why would having limited routes matter as it relates to being able to search for a flight directly from their home page? Not trying to be an “ass.” It is clear looking at the people who post here they know a lot more about design and GUI then I do.

But putting the search functionality a few levels lower, just means that it takes me more clicks to find out neither carrier can get me to where I want to go.

What would any of us go to an airlines sight for other then to look for a flight? The only think I can think of is contact info, investor info, and info about frequent flyer miles.

evan 04 Apr 05

tommy - well, as far as i can tell, southwest’s front page is full of travel deals, and hyping certain places where they do travel and airports they do service. it appears that since they don’t cover as much as the larger carriers, deals and specials is the way to go.

if they had the form on the front page, most users go straight to it, missing the cross-sale. when the fill out the form to an area they don’t service, southwest can do one of 2 things:

1. show a “no flights found” error - which looks negative on the airline, and makes them look small


2. show multiple carriers that cover the ground, but now you have your competition on your search results… which also looks bad.

so, they need to push up front which sells best for them. i remember jetblue’s big promo, was fly to san francisco to los angeles for cheap. they tried to hit commuters during the internet boom, where people were flying up and down california for work. but, they never really traveled outside of that route.

so, they push what makes money. for them, i’m assuming it’s deals and specials for special routes they service, rather than trying to get the person from point a to pount b.

anybody agree?

Braxton Beyer 04 Apr 05

Tonight on the business news on PBS there was a piece on airlines and customer satisfaction. Southwest received the least customer complaints of all airlines while JetBLue was the most profitable if I remember correctly. So they must be doing something right.

Hrush 05 Apr 05

I’m just guessing here, but we’ve designed a few travel sites and putting search forms on *any* page increases the page size significantly. That could be just one of the factors that persuaded JetBlue and Southwest to have the searches located one click away?

Some other factors could be:
- Their home pages are actually a lot less cluttered than other airline sites
- They get to use home page real estate for communication while users are clear about where to click if all they want is to book

Secondly, I’m not sure how someone could get a no flights error on either of these sites as both use menus for origin/departure cities instead of text fields.

Finally, what’s with pinpoint not supporting Safari?

pb 05 Apr 05

Why would having limited routes matter as it relates to being able to search for a flight directly from their home page?
Because JetBlue, for example, only flies to about 20 cities, so the typical open-ended city search wouldn’t work well.

But putting the search functionality a few levels lower, just means that it takes me more clicks to find out neither carrier can get me to where I want to go.

No, they put it *one* level lower so it takes you *one* more click. And you come to a page tailored to searching for flights. And they can leave the home page uncluttered and fast loading.

Where’s the problem here?

Geoff 05 Apr 05

I’m not sure about southwest, but JetBlue has some historical reasons why their website isn’t all that great:

I may have some of the exact details munged up, but I believe the old CEO of JetBlue (or maybe current?) was the ex-CEO of the internet dev company that built the online flight search system they use. I think they aren’t the only airline that uses it, and I think it’s a pretty old system, and they don’t seem to update it very often, and it’s not very customizable.

So I think it’s just a matter of having an ‘out of the box’ solution they bought (sort of) for their website and then didn’t have the know-how to update it.

I would imagine that since they are making some money they would look into it now, but who knows.

pb 05 Apr 05

Except that the JetBlue site is great.

Hrush 06 Apr 05

I agree with pb, JetBlue’s site is great.

And JetBlue’s booking engine is powered by Navitaire, the same company which powers WestJet’s booking engine. Navitaire is considered a leader in the space and their airline solutions are state of the art, not “a pretty old system.”

Finally, FYI, David Neeleman, JetBlue’s CEO used to be with Open Skies, a division of HP, which Navitaire acquired in in 2000. David Neeleman left Open Skies in 1998, since which time he has been JetBlue’s CEO.

Alexandre Simard 06 Apr 05

OK, here are a few corrections from my experience working with Navitaire products:

  • Navitaire is not a “leader in the space”, it just doesn’t have any competitor. If you want to start an airline now, you’ve got two choices for your reservations system: build your own or buy Navitaire.
  • No competition = no pressure to be “state of the art”. Navitaire’s products work relatively well, but they are indeed quite old. The servers are HP3000 mini-computers, for which HP announced in 2001 it would discontinue support. Bear in mind, though, that old != bad. Quite often, it’s the contrary. Since the HP announcement, Navitaire has been working on porting all of its applications to the .NET platform. I have no idea how this is coming along.
  • OpenSkies is the company responsible for Navitaire’s reservation system, including the Skylights online booking system. It was acquired specifically for this. Therefore it is true that there is a direct connection between Jetblue and Navitaire.

Hrush 07 Apr 05

Well, don’t all the GDSs such as Sabre, Worldspan etc. offer airline reservations systems? The Sabre owned GetThere has an airline reservation system as well?

But, I guess this is all pretty off topic…

Alexandre Simard 12 Apr 05

Well, don�t all the GDSs such as Sabre, Worldspan etc. offer airline reservations systems?

Yes, they do. But they take a significant cut out of each transaction going through their system. Low-cost carriers want to avoid dealing with them and sell direct.

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