Airline Woes

AirlinerI look forward to the day when I can write a story about how great airline websites are. It is true that airlines have a complicated business and are under enormous financial pressures — that is why I have tried to be understanding about some of the frustrating experiences that I have had. My level of sympathy dropped yesterday when I received a letter from American Airlines saying my Admirals Club membership was coming up for renewal. It didn’t bother me that they now charge $10 per baggage tag instead of giving you a free set every year. People don’t need a new set every year — and some people belong to more than one airline club and get more than one set per year. Giving away fancy luggage tags annually was a bad business policy all along. I don’t even mind the new $50 late registration fee. Some people probably let their membership lapse and then renew it the next time they need to visit a club, thereby saving money for the intervening period. It is not unreasonable for the airline to impose a fee in this case. What I do mind is the method of renewal. 
First, I must say that the Admirals Club is a very good business asset for frequent travelers. It is like having an office at the airport. You can make some phone, have some refreshment, or just relax between flights. Best of all, almost all Admirals Clubs have WiFi broadband Internet service. American was the first to offer WiFi — definitely a pioneer. Some airlines have a way to go with their processes, however — especially the Admirals Club membership renewal process. The renewal form says…

Renewal Is Easy
bullet Call (800) 237-7971, press 1, and an Admirals Club representative will process your membership

bullet Ifpaying by credit card or with miles, fax your completed renewal statement to (817) 963-6015

bullet Visit any Admirals Club location

bullet Complete the information below and mail entire page, along with your payment, in the envelope provided

bullet Questions? Email us at Admirals.Club@aa.com

Many of the airline issues I have written about before are really hard to streamline. Even with web services technology there is certainly a non-trivial effort to create a seamless integration across the many systems and applications that are run by airlines. But renewing a club membership? Is this hard to put on-line? Could a student do it in a few hours with PHP scripts? Ok, maybe it would take a week. Add rigorous testing and quality control and call it a month. If this was the 1998 renewal statement, I could understand the lack of automation. In the third year of the new millennium, there are few excuses as to why an airline can’t make their club membership renewal process a simple web page application with email notification for their members.
Although making great progress, airlines have a long way to go to become on demand e-businesses. What is an on-demand e-business, again? Very simple. A business that allows you to engage with them whenever you want from wherever you are with whatever kind of communications link you have and to do what you need to do with simplicity and productivity. Another way to say it is that an on demand e-business simplifies your life and saves you time. Easy to say. Hard to do. I continue to say that we are just five percent of the way there. Not long ago I thought it was just two percent, so I do think the e-businesses of the world we are making progress.

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