Our reliance and dependence upon the Internet is clearly growing, as evidenced by recent weather dramas around the world. In England, British Airways website “crashed and burned” as passengers got online to find out whether or not their flight had been canceled due to extreme fog conditions. Thousands of passengers were stranded when British Airways stopped all domestic flights and some international flights due to the bad weather conditions.
A massive blizzard in Denver has shut down that airport and surrounding ones with more than 2,000 flights canceled, again driving people to the Internet to find out.
Frontier Airlines estimates that they had 65,000 “bumped passengers” facing flight schedules rearrangements. This time of year, people are hitting the airports in droves and weather delays and emergencies are not just preventing travel but trapping thousands in airports.
Passengers check their flights and look for alternatives on the web. Family, friends, and business associations check the same flights to see if their arrivals are on time or even arriving. People are also checking online weather sites to monitor when conditions will change or worsen. That’s a lot of traffic on the web and a huge impact on these servers.
How Airlines Highlight Emergency Information on Their Sites
From a web developer and designer perspective, it’s interesting to see how airlines respond to this huge influx of traffic. Clearly, British Airway’s severs overloaded, causing a panic among their IT folks and host. But how they get the information on these weather emergencies and trauma to their passengers was of interest to me. So I visited a few airline company sites to see how they are responding to the public demand for information on these massive cancellations.
British Airways site is totally different from the usual flash graphic overkill. It is simply text that says:
BAA – Important Message
22 December 2006
Statement last updated at 3pm (flight information is updated every few minutes)
Due to the adverse weather conditions and the Christmas getaway, our website is experiencing an extremely high volume of traffic. We apologise for the inconvenience and hope to be back to normal service as soon as possible. The fog is still lingering and set to continue for a few days. Passengers intending to fly in the coming days are likely to be heavily affected and we therefore strongly advise you to check with your airline before leaving for the airport.
Then it lists information on the various airports in the UK. At the time I checked, Heathrow listed delays with 174 cancellations. Gatwick listed minor cancellations with delays up to 60 minutes.
American Airlines had a entry for “Travel Policy For Denver, Other Travel Notices” under their AA News and Offers. It took me a few long seconds to look around before I even found it. It was second on the list after information on the liquids and gels foolishness, and the title wasn’t eye catching either. When I revisited the page, the Denver news had moved to the top of the list. Still, it was findable on the front page.
Northwest Airlines, like American, put their Colorado Weather Waiver news under a red titled “Airfare Deals and News” at the very top of the page. I spotted it right away due to the placement above all the flight request information.
Alaska Airlines Weather Advisory was right up at the top under their logo. Unfortunately, it’s in a golden orange color and I thought it was part of their logo. The text read “Weather Advisory: Flights to/from Denver are being affected due to a winter storm. More” and the “More” was a blue highlighted link. Why the entire line wasn’t a link, and why they chose the softer color instead of an attention getting tone…well, at least it was at the top. The link covers four letters and I had to move my mouse around a bit to get to the actual link. I also spent too much time searching the page and the links which look like news but aren’t titled as such.
US Airways had a listing for “Winter weather in Colorado” under the News section below the flight look-up information in the lower left section of the page. It’s highlighted in bold, but since the whole site design is in a very dark, almost black, blue and the only color is the red in the logo, I did have to look around to notice it.
United had a “Denver travel advisory update” link highlighted in red under their United News and Deals, but the placement was ideal. Right in the center of the viewable page on my screen. My eye went to the red highlighted link immediately, even before I saw anything else on the page.
Southwest Airlines had a Denver (DEN) Winter Weather Advisory in a red box with a bright yellow circled exclamation mark, and the text was in red. Unfortunately, the site has been designed with the Disney look, very cartoony and bright with cutesy icons. It actually look my eyes a while to jump from the red-ribboned decorated airplane photograph, the “ding” graphic for downloading some travel tool software, and icons for booking travel, checking flight status, online check ins and so on. My eyes felt like ping pongs as they danced around looking at all the attention-getting bits jumping up and down at me before I noticed the humble red outlined box. Their attempt to highlight the Weather Advisory was well done, but it’s hard to compete with the rest of the attention-getting subjects on the page.
Frontier Airlines has one of those forced placement and width web pages, so I had to scroll horizontally to even see their lowercase “news & updates” title in gray letters. All I could see before I scrolled over was an exclamation point on “Denver Snow…” disappearing under the far right of my screen. Part of the lower section of the news listings was also covered by a [+] Feedback hovering link in the corner, another useless bell and whistle to add to a web page design. I will also note for those paying attention, that it’s
4 8 15 minutes after arriving on the Frontier Airlines page and it is still loading. And I’m on high speed Internet access.
Delta’s “Advisories: Winter storm affects travel” was in red in the center of the page, but overlapping a photographic ad for travel to Puerto Rico. I thought it was a sales pitch so I ignored it while I scrolled around the busy page. Then, imagine my giggle to see in their newsy section, an announcement that Business Traveler Magazine has awarded Delta “Best Airline Web Site”. I spotted that before I found the Advisory notice as the notice was directly above the announcement.
Lufthansa had an interesting modern web design approach on their site. They have country-specific auto detection enabled on their site, so they funnel the information to you related to where you are in the world. As I’m currently in the US, the US specific page had a highlighted section in the middle of the page that drew my eye immediately on the status of Denver weather. When I switched to the UK portal, in the very same spot was news on the London Airports Weather Situation.
While I’ve found this country-specific detection not very helpful in the past when I was an x-pat, hunting the site for a way to get rid of US specific information and change it to European, a simple change in the URL from US to UK was all it took to give me information on the UK, in pounds not dollars, and flight information to European sites not US.
What I really like about the Lufthansa site is the lack of attention getting gimmicks. The site is lovely for its simplicity, with lots of white space, and highlighting the information you need with words not cute graphics. It’s an adult-style site, concentrating on information not gimmicks.
Continental Airlines, one of the last of the older airlines which covers the world, had not a word on the front page about Denver or London. Nothing. Nor did Air France, Swiss, and many other international airlines that I know fly into England. The information might have been there, but I wasn’t going to dig and it wasn’t featured on the front page.
This quick overview of a few major airlines’ sites gives us some insights into how different companies and web designers highlight critical information for their customers. For some airlines, weather-related problems are just part of the business practices, nothing to get too excited about. However, when you have more than a thousand flights canceled which impact national and international travel at the same time, that’s news. Important news impacting hundreds of thousands. Your website becomes a major link between you and your customer.
You may never have such a situation, but there are always times when something important has to be highlighted on your blog or website. It could be as simple as a major site layout and design change, the server going down, or more important news about your business or life.
So how do you highlight the information and pass it on to your readers? How would you feature the information on your front page?
And take a look at these airline sites yourself and see if your response to finding the news is similar to mine. How long did it take you to find “the news”?
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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network