Airline web sites - still fairly primitive April 1999
Last month (March issue) Aviation Strategy examined the advantages airlines could gain by Internet distribution. In this article we take a closer look at what this means in practice, by making a detailed analysis of the existing web sites at a sample of eight major airlines in North America, Europe and the Asia/Pacific region.
The sites have been rated by Aviation Strategy according to three user criteria: availability of schedule/timetable information; availability of fare information; and ability to booking online. These user criteria are applied with an international perspective — i.e. Aviation Strategys ratings are based on what information/service was provided to customers based outside the domestic market of the airline considered.
We have also added a business–to–business assessment, based on the amount of corporate information available (such as traffic figures, news releases, annual/quarterly financial reports etc); and, lastly, we have added a fifth criterion based on ease of use and how well the overall site is designed.
Each of the five criteria is scored out of 20, and each criterion is given equal weighting, with a total maximum score for each site of 100. The one criterion we have ignored is speed, as access to any web site depends largely on the capabilities of the PC/laptop each person uses, local telecoms infrastructure, and time of day a site is accessed (in Europe, for example, web access slows down considerably when local time is equivalent to 7.00–9.00am in North America — i.e. when US users first go online each day in order to read their e–mail).
Aviation Strategys survey does not claim to the definitive guide to these sampled web sites. Rather, it is a snapshot of just what airlines are offering on the web today. Airlines sites should be improving all the time — they are not a one–off marketing effort — so this survey is an assessment of how far developed these eight specific sites are today, at the end of the first quarter of 1999.
US sites: advanced, but insular
Americans web site (www.aa.com) has recently been redesigned, and now attracts one million visits per week. According to the airline, web revenue has tripled in a year — although it will not say just how much that revenue was. Its an attractively designed site and relatively easy to use. Schedule information is readily obtainable, but its major disadvantage is that fare information (and hence online booking) for flights originating outside of the US is not obtainable. Instead the site just tells you to telephone your local reservations office.
Deltas site (www.delta–air.com) is also designed primarily for US residents. Like American, Deltas site does not allow for online booking for European- or Asian–based travellers. Deltas site is also not as easy to use as Americans, although Delta does provide excellent corporate information, from stock charts to quarterly financial results.
Uniteds site (www.ual.com) is the best of the three US sites Aviation Strategy has looked at. It is very well designed, allows online schedule and fare information (although yet again, there is no online booking facility for non–US resident travellers), and has very good corporate information.
European sites - teething problems!
In theory, British Airways site (www.british–airways.com) offers relatively simple but effective online booking, but each and every time Aviation Strategy tried British Airways online booking process — and we tried on numerous occasions over a period of three weeks — it was either unable to proceed once a request for fare information was sent (the site then advised the user to contact the local British Airways office) or else there was no availability for any flight we enquired about. Not surprisingly, this was immensely frustrating — particularly as one of our staff genuinely wanted to book a flight (eventually he booked with a different airline instead).
Air France (www.airfrance.fr) does not offer fare information and online booking, but does have schedule information. Corporate information is patchy, although it is improving as the airline becomes more commercial in its outlook.
Lufthansas site (www.lufthansa.com) offers a wealth of corporate information and is well designed. Online booking was temporarily unavailable the first time we tried, but when we did get through the service worked very well. Users have to complete a brief registration process, but online booking is made as painless as possible.
Asian sites - lagging the field
The JAL site is pretty basic (www.jal.co.jp). Despite a series of local versions depending on where in the world you live, the site offers no online booking facility or fare information. Schedule information is good, but corporate information is basic.
Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) is slightly better designed than JALs. It has reasonable corporate information available (although fleets, for example, are five months out–of–date) and good schedule information, but again there is no online booking facility.
A slow start
Our survey shows a predictable gap between the US airlines and the rest of the world. If you live in North America, then booking online is extremely simple and painless. Unfortunately US airlines do not yet see a need to offer online booking facilities to anybody resident outside of the US — but this will change.
In Europe, British Airways and in particular Lufthansa are making strenuous efforts to offer effective online booking facilities, but in our experience over the sample period of three weeks the booking systems tended to be offline more often than they were online.
The two Asian airlines we sampled — Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines — did not attempt to offer online booking whatsoever. Furthermore, they also scored the least (along with Air France) in terms of online corporate information. The US airlines, BA and Lufthansa offer excellent access to news, whether traffic data or quarterly financial reports, but the rest of our sample appear to regard corporate information as a low priority.
Overall, therefore, the reality of airline web sites (particularly outside the US) lags well behind the theoretical advantages the web can offer. But this is only partly due to sluggish strategic foresight by managements. Also to blame is the historical baggage than many airlines have — for a long time they have relied on travel agents for the majority of their bookings, so whether they want to or not they have to be wary of being a pioneer in Internet bookings.
The start–up airlines dont have this burden and, for example, easyJets site (www. easyJet.com) focuses solely on providing simple online booking (with prices quoted in the local currency of the outbound flight). As a result, easyJet.com is much better than any of the Majors sites we sampled.
|Score (each out of 20):
|Online booking facility
|Total (out of 100):