How much can you trust modern IT systems?
Recently, for the first time, I was denied boarding, while holding what I thought was a perfectly valid electronic boarding pass. The Gate agent told me I’m not in the system and there is nothing they can do while customer service on the phone tried to fix it they could not do it in time before flight departure and so I’m spending the night at Miami airport instead of going on vacation with my family.
While as a traveler, everything looks simple on the surface – you get a flight ticket underneath there are tons of records created in a variety of systems – reservation, ticket, seat assignment, etc. I do not pretend to know all of them, just the fact there are many. In a perfect world, all those systems are consistent, at least eventually consistent, in reality, though they are not. Moreover, it seems to me Airlines tend to run antiquated systems designed in the mainframe era and do not use enough automation to spot and correct inconsistencies promptly.
Things get worse when multiple airlines are involved as this often requires integration between different and guess what – integrations tend to be even more buggy than systems alone.
Finally – you should beware “human touch” – in my experience, making changes through the agent rather than a website or app gives you more flexibility it’s also a more frequent cause of mistakes – humans are much less reliable than machines in this case.
I was traveling with Delta, from Raleigh-Durham to Lima, Peru with a stop in New York (JFK) – The flight to Peru was a Delta codeshare flight Operated by LATAM. Flight to Lima was first delayed by 3 hours and then canceled and I got rebooked to fly through Santiago, Chile. If you’re familiar with geography – this is not the most direct route and there were much more convenient flights going through Miami so I called Delta to see if we can get on that flight instead. Delta agent was very helpful and we were rebooked on this more convenient flight instead. The story should have ended here but it did not.
As we had been booked on this new flight through Miami, the flight through Santiago, Chile did not disappear from the Delta App. I did not worry much about it thinking it could be some kind of caching… As I found out later it was for a reason – someone had forgotten to delete our old route through Santiago, causing all the systems to get mixed up.
In Miami you have to go through security again – our boarding passes work fine with security, so we do not suspect anything can be wrong with them.
Learning Experience: A boarding Pass valid for security may not be valid for travel.
A couple of hours later we board the plane and get “see agent” while attempting to board, which informs us that we’re not in the system and Delta perhaps made a mistake and I need to take it up with them.
Here we have a great lesson for business – if you want a great customer experience how NOT to treat your relationship with your partner.
As a customer you expect a company to take ownership of both its mistakes and those of its partners.
I would expect one of the gate agents would figure out what went wrong in their systems, but instead, I was left to my own devices. Moreover, even when I got a Delta representative on the phone, they and the LATAM Gate agent would not want to speak to each other to find the best way to resolve the situation. Not good. In the end, as I mentioned already by the time Delta could fix things they found wrong in the system, the Latam gate agent could no more check me in.
While Delta and Latam of course should do better in their partnership, what have I learned from this experience? The world is messy and there is no reason to believe it will change any time soon.
Next time implementing such “complicated” changes I will double-check with the operating airline if I’m good to go.
I had time and opportunity to do that, but I did not and hence could not get on the plane. I should practice extreme ownership too!