Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Stupid programmers

1165 words

While booking my flights today I had the joyful opportunity to use various online booking websites. We all know that they tend to suck. Many of them are inflexible and make you do much more work than you should need to. I guess the British rail system scores another ‘worst in class’ when it comes to their website. Never mind that one today though: I was booking flights.

This involved using Lufthansa’s site. While my first impression of the site was that it isn’t too ugly, works in many browsers and lets me book whatever I like without too much effort, i.e. the site isn’t brilliant but not too bad either - a closer look suggests that there are several levels of ‘goodness’ that can be involved in making the site. And while I guess that the user interface of that site wasn’t entirely made up by programmers (as it doesn’t suck entirely), the programmers still managed to screw things up, sadly. Let me list a couple of points:

Firstly, the language. So Lufthansa is a - or even the - German airline. The address I entered in my web browser was ‘www.lufthansa.de, my web browser’s preferred language is German. So you’d expect the site to come up in German. It’s a German company (and part of their business for sure comes from old people who choose Lufthansa because they are German, they have German speaking staff and thus they feel more comfortable on the plane), I used their German URL rather than ‘www.lufthansa.com’ and the content-negotiation magic of web browsers and web servers could easily present me with a German page. However, the page comes up in English by default and I have to find and click the link for the German version. That’s just plain silly. [In fact I just used the English version at first, but we’ll see the problem with that in a moment.]

Secondly - and this is a problem so widespread that many programmers deserve to be hurt very badly for it - why the fuck do I need to enter a date so there are exactly two digits for the day and month? Come on - free form date entry isn’t too hard a thing to do. And strangely, it seems possible to do this without going out of business. I think free form entry of any data is much easier and more natural than having seperate fields for everything. Sure, it may be non-trivial to implement but it makes applications so much easier to use and is definitely worth to be done. It’s particularly stupid for the zero-padding of the numbers, though, particularly if you write special JavaScript code to check the validity of the data entered and output an error message as Lufthansa’s site does:

Outbound: Please insert day in correct format, has to be a number using the format ‘DD’ and not:’5’

Thirdly, not having this kind of sanity check is even worse - in particular if you have - fourthly: data processing that chokes on any non trivial (i.e all non [a-zA-Z ]) input. Add five: some inadequate error messages and I will be very confused. The story for those last points goes as follows:

After I successfully passed the date entry barrier, the site was actually quite good and quick (travel sites tend to be painfully slow) at finding me the flights I wanted, giving me the prices and making me register for an account with them to proceed to the booking. [While you could argue that needing an account is bad - it certainly pays off when you don’t have to re-type your details, seating/meal preferences for the second booking and you can easily review your booking history. But that’s not my point here, right?] Being paranoid as ever I double-checked the booking details and placed the final mouse-click, just to receive a message that my booking couldn’t be completed and I should try again later or call their ‘Service Team’, for which they didn’t give a number.

Of course I could’ve just booked the flight on the phone at this stage, but I wanted to get the extra €10 discount they give you on web bookings. When I tried again today, hoping the issue would be resolved, I used the German version of the site and the problem still existed there - but the German error message now presented a phone number I could call. Ah, one step further! Calling the number, the friendly guy suggested something might be wrong with the credit card details. Basically the card is a Eurocard which is also a Master Card and you can select either for the card type. This brings up another nuisance: It seems to me that in credit card universe there is a clear correspondence between the first digits of the card number and the card’s type - so why make people enter both? This still isn’t my point, unfortunately - because it didn’t solve the problem as I hadn’t mistyped the number.

Thus I called them again, having a girl on the phone this time. She looked at my account as well and spotted that there was a hyphen and a dot in my Name Sven-S.. I guess that’s the problem. The computer usually chokes on those, she said. She was very helpful about this, suggesting that I simply create a new account as changing the name of an existing account requires you to fax an ID… Right, that did solve my problem and I could book my flights. But it feels very wrong, since

  1. The computer should be able to handle any name.
  2. If it isn’t, it shouldn’t let me enter a name that some part of the program cannot handle.
  3. If an error occurs, having an error message that tells you what the problem is, can be very helpful.
  4. The problem seems to be known to the call-centre staff. Yet there’s nothing done about it.

Bad, bad, bad. And people, like the girl in the call-centre just don’t seem to mind too much. Get them used to sufficiently stupid things and they’ll swallow even more. It’s probably called The Microsoft Effect.

Later on I also booked two flights with Ryanair. You don’t need and can’t have an account for their site, which I find a bit silly. Also, they always make you pay in the currency of the country where your flight departs frin which makes your bank charge an extra fee for the trivial conversion. Consequently I am using my Switch card when booking flights originating in the U.K. There is no handling charge for the Switch card while it’s about £5 for credit cards (’cause they suck, I guess), so I’d definitely prefer paying everything with my Switch card. And as they don’t have shopping baskets you can’t save on the handling fee by buying all of your flights in one go. Not too good either.

February 3, 2003, 3:19

Tagged as bad, e-commerce, lufthansa, ryanair, software, sucks, web site.

Comments

Comment by John S.: User icon

Lufthansa is sucking lately…that’s that. Not making the wisest of decisions and also pissing off their mid- to high-level customers, while kissing the rears of the very few at the very, very top.

And you’re complaining about something like dots and dashes? Their website has always sucked for award bookings, too. You can’t make seat assignments. You get chronic errors for certain flight routings, even if there’s availability when you call to bokk.

Sorry, but your Lufthansa dots and dashes is tip of the iceberg, dude.

December 5, 2004, 17:33

Comment by Booo: User icon

Boo boo boo, you are sucky

January 17, 2005, 11:40

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