Category Archives: usability

British Airways Online Check-in

I love online check-in, where I can select the seat I want and take care of some formalities before I ever get to the airport.

So I checked in online for my British Airways flight to Denver, but didn’t have an easy way (at my dad’s house) to print the boarding card. The site assured me that I could do this when I arrived at the airport.

When I got to Heathrow, several big and immediately obvious signs advised me that if I had checked in online but had NOT yet printed my ticket, I should proceed to a kiosk to do so. I was pleased at this rare example of clear instructions at an airport.

I went to the kiosk, punched in the number of my reservation, and got a screen saying: “You have already checked in.” And that was it – the kiosk returned to its original “check in here” state. I had seen no option to print a boarding pass, nor did the machine look as if it was going to do this on its own initiative. I tried again, and, even looking carefully, could not find any print option, though the screens were very clear and uncluttered. Fortunately, there was a lady standing behind the kiosks ready to help, so I asked her.

“If you’ve already checked in, go straight to the Bag Drop and they will print the boarding pass for you.”

…in flat contradiction of the instructions on great big signs all over the place!


ATM Irritations

I recently had occasion to withdraw money from my US bank account using an Italian ATM. I was presented with a choice of amounts ranging from 10 to 250 euros, plus one item marked “Other Amount.” I chose that one then, as prompted, entered the desired amount (500).

I got a message “Amount too large, try again” or something of the sort. I entered 400. Same message. I entered 300.

“Amount too large. Too many attempts. Operation concluded.” And it spit out my card.

Apparently, 250 was not just one of several options: it was the maximum allowed. But this was not clear from anything on the screen and, having failed to make clear to me that there was a limit, the machine blamed me for making too many guesses as to what that limit might be!

Solution: If there’s a limit, tell me what it is on the first screen, don’t leave me poking around trying to figure it out.


Forgot My Password: Austin American-Statesman

Another in the ongoing series “one million ways to screw up a password reminder page.” This one’s from the Austin American-Statesman, a site I only registered on because a friend forwarded an article I might enjoy, and this is one of those (extremely annoying) sites where you can only read an article if you’re signed in.

I’ve read maybe one or two articles over the lifetime of this relationship, and now that I want to STOP receiving emails about real estate I will never buy, the American-Statesman is making it as difficult as possible for me to tell them so.

I’ve started using password-management software in the last year or so, but before I never bothered: I can always get the site to remind me, right? Well…

Plus point of this form: your login is your email address, and they tell you so right there on the form.

However, since I’ve forgotten the password and cannot sign in, there is no apparent reason for me to fill in that box. What I want is the “Forgot your password?” link, and I go straight for that.

When I click it, however, I get an error message as shown below:

Hmm. You don’t see many sites where you must fill in a field in order to click a link. That’s confusing.

As instructed, I fill in the email address, THEN click “Forgot your password?”

Result: I find myself at a page which is blank except for the American-Statesman’s top navigation. It does not tell me whether anything happened as a result of my filling in the email address and clicking the link. Did it work? Was there a silent error?

I go back and do it again. Same result. At this point I assume that maybe it worked but no one’s bothering to tell me.

Later on, in my mailbox, I find that it has worked – in fact the login info has been sent to me twice.


If a field must be filled in to permit a click, use a Submit button rather than a link.

And give your user some !@#$@ feedback on whether the operation was a success!


Airport Usability: Philadelphia

Our port of entry into the US on this trip was Philadelphia. Once through immigration and customs, we had to change terminals and pass security again. The rules seem to be different in every airport (shoes off or on? computers in or out?), so I looked outside the security area for instructions. No sign, no taped announcement, but when we got right up to the barrier I could hear a guy on the other side of the metal detector, going hoarse saying over and over again: “Shoes off and in a box, laptops out and in a separate box, jackets off and in a box…”

I needed three boxes, which, along with my backpack, made 6 linear feet of stuff to put through the x-ray. I got all this lined up on the table, then realized that there was a gap and a cordon between the table and the x-ray machine – I had to pick up each item and move it over to the conveyor, while holding my ticket in view, and trying to grab another box for Ross’s belt that the metal detector didn’t like – we had to shout back down the line for someone to hand us a box, as other people piled up behind us.

Once on the other side, we had mininal space and time to reassemble our belongings. I said to the hoarse guy: “Do you mind a usability suggestion? How about putting a sign up telling people what to do? And connect the table to the conveyor belt so people can just slide their stuff through.” He looked at me, puzzled, then shrugged.

<sigh> I’m sure he’s sick of shouting the same thing over and over again for hours every day. I’m sure he and the other security agents know what’s needed to make this process easier for passengers and themselves – it’s staring them in the face all day. So why aren’t things better already? Clearly the staff at the gate have no power to make changes, and perhaps don’t feel they can even make suggestions. It’s possible that no one has ever listened to them – the experience of many low-level employees – so they see no point in wasting their breath.

It’s also possible that they just don’t give a damn. But I don’t want to believe that – I prefer to believe that everyone would like to make things better. Okay, maybe I’m hopelessly deluded…