Usability When You Least Expect It

After getting to Barcelona airport yesterday, I looked in despair at the long lines for the Iberia economy check-in. I thought I’d give the quick check-in machines a go, but I wasn’t seriously expecting them to work. I’d booked both flights for my roundtrip between LHR and BCN with BA but the return hop was operated by Iberia; the BA quick check-in at Heathrow had worked, but hey, this is a different airline, right? They’re not going to have my credit card details or anything, are they? The machine, though, seemed to accept the record locator (booking reference) as an alternative. Maybe this was a faint hope - though I’d had experiences with the BA website being incapable of viewing my reservations with AA, and vice-versa, so I wasn’t confident. But it all just worked - the boarding card was printed, and I was congratulating myself again for my foresight in only packing carry-on.

My worry was, though, that I was impressed by this. I shouldn’t be. This is honest-to-goodness systems integration. The volumes of data are not impressive. Even the transaction rates aren’t that impressive any more, to my understanding. And from an airline customer perspective, this stuff is rapidly becoming essential to stay competitive. Maybe some more regular travellers aren’t impressed: but I wonder how often things like this still don’t work? Are my expectations set too low?


'Moral of the story - if you let BA airline gather data on you, they reciprocate by easing your check-in.' I think you're probably right - in much the same way as if you let Sainsbury's gather data on what you buy, they make it easier to select the same things when shopping online (this is spooky, by the way, if you've never tried it).
I have repeatedly found the BA self check-in machines to be an efficent joy to use - I just feed the machine my BA Executive Club card and (after answering the security questions), out pops a boarding card.. great! However, on two recent BA flights to Dublin and Zurich with colleagues it became painfully obvious that my experience with them is an exception rather than the norm - everyone else had trouble getting the machines to recognise their booking by choosing the correct subset of the possible reservation details to provide (NB for anyone trying to do this, the most efficient set of ID to provide is an ATM card with the *same* name as you are booked under and the flight number, seems to be relatively failsafe. One colleague found it was impossible for the machines to check him in because his title on his credit card was Dr but he still had Mr on his passport...). Moral of the story - if you let BA airline gather data on you, they reciprocate by easing your check-in. gah!
In short, Iberia suck. I think it is pretty rotten that BA codeshare with them when their inflight product is different. I, also, was upset when they wanted to charge for food. Were I travelling for pleasure, I may choose them if they were cheaper but when they're the same price, it's pretty annoying. I guess it's a lesson to check who is operating your flight... a lesson I've learned (And one which I bet any Virgin Upper Class passengers have learned to their bitter cost when stuck on a Continental plane!)
Actually, this was my first time on Iberia (first time to Spain, in fact!). So I think my low expectations were calibrated from other airlines. But I've never heard anyone say anything good about Iberia. They had one little disadvantage over BA, which was a lack of screens with the flight information in the plane, which BA have even on short-haul (particularly lacking was the time remaining for the flight - this wasn't helped by some vomit-inducing article from an Iberia executive in the inflight magazine about how he enjoyed every minute of a flight). The bigger disadvantage, though, was the lack of free food. Is this common these days? Considering I had the option of a BA return flight (at a slightly less convienient time), I think I paid the same price for a ticket, to go without food. This is pretty cheeky on BA's part as well (in their defence, the booking small print says Iberia charge for food - I hadn't read this). I will avoid Iberia in the future if I can.
Iberia/BA integration is truly bizarre. I always get confused because a flight booked with them can fall into one of four cases: BA ticket/BA plane, BA ticket/Iberia plane, Iberia ticket/BA plane, Iberia ticket/Iberia plane. At Barajas, for example, both BA and Iberia have checkin desks (some way apart for reasons I don't understand) and both have ticket machines. But... I always forget which rule to use to decide where to check in.... and you can't just go anywhere..... only one set of machines will work for any given ticket in my experience. You're right, however, that if you find yourself needing to use the Iberia checkin area *and* you have a need to speak to a human then you may as well slit your wrists. I've decided the best option is only ever to fly BA/BA when going to Spain. Anything else is too stressful.