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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Web checkin for flights and hotel business centers? Pain.

You might say I have a strained relationship with technology in general. I know enough about it to make it really obvious when things aren't quite right. It's sort of like what happens when you read some UI/UX books like those by Donald Norman. Suddenly, you start seeing horrible interfaces everywhere and doors with completely improper handles and push-plates.

Today's adventure comes from trying to check in for a return flight. Given that it's happening on the road, I am entirely at the mercy of whatever Internet access accommodations my hotel may have.

I specifically avoid the "just scan my phone" method of boarding passes since I just know that my phone will let me down for the first time if I give it the opportunity to be a single point of failure for my boarding process. I might carry a laptop around, but I sure don't carry a printer, so it was off to the business center to print my boarding passes.

There, I was greeted with two machines running some flavor of Windows XP. The first one I grabbed seemed healthy enough and let me in as guest. I opted for Chrome since it was installed and had a private browsing mode so it would not hang on to my flight details. That's when the airline's web site let me down.

Yep, US Airways, you need to fire your web site people. Trying to log in gives a page where it asks for details, then throws you to another page where it asks for the same thing. On that page, it extols the virtues of its new and improved sign-in process and you get to look at this while you tell it the same confirmation number again. Then it brings up some weird empty rounded rectangle centered on the browser window and never moves.

Is it their web site? Is it something crazy with Chrome? Was that particular install of XP insane? Who knows. I gave up on that machine and moved to the other one. I woke that one up and was treated to a "Windows XP is shutting down" screen. It was frozen there. Lovely.

Fine. It's come to this. I pulled out my laptop and got online. Then after making sure nobody was watching me, so I reached behind the machine and unplugged its printer and plugged it into my laptop. All I need is something to turn bits into dead trees! Viva la USB!

Only... this stupid printer wasn't known to the Mac OS, and I wasn't about to go on some kind of driver odyssey through Dell's web site. I didn't even know they made printers, rebadged or no. So here I was with a boarding pass on my laptop's screen and I couldn't print it.

Or could I? Mac print dialogs all have a nice "print to PDF" option, so I did that. Then I just schlepped it up to my web server, went back to wacko machine #1, and loaded that URL in the browser. That much worked, so I then sent it to the printer. A minute or two later, I finally had my boarding passes.

I find a way, but this is insane. Nobody should have to go through this. I can only imagine what kind of insanity comes up on the tech support lines and how much hair-pulling must be involved.