Usability While Traveling

I’m not the first to notice that once the concept of usability has entered your brain, you have a tendency to see more and more of the world as impossibly broken. Having just got back from a business trip to Colorado, I couldn’t help but notice what “worked” and what was “broken” at each stage of my trip. Herewith, a rant…

Check-in for United: The e-ticket kiosks are actually quite well-done. There seems to be an increasing effort to make these things actually work. The sneaky bastards ask me whether I would like to upgrade for only $39 and I almost click the “Yes” button out of sheer OK-momentum.

Security Check: My drivers license is expired so I can’t get to the gate. I have to go back to the United check-in and get a new boarding pass, this one with large capital “S”s all down the side. “S” is for security, I imagine. Uh oh. OK, now I’ve got the boarding pass marked TERRORIST, I can go right through and into the special line for some cavity searching. Why couldn’t they have just shunted me into that line at security? Why did I need a new boarding pass? If I was a real terrorist and got caught with an out of date ID at security, I’d hop a cab out of there and try again another day.

Side note: The TSA people are incredibly polite and nice. They seem to actually like their jobs.

Meals Not Included: I buy a $6 sandwich from the Au Bon Pain kiosk at LGA. On the plane the stewardesses offer to sell me the exact same sandwich for $10. Good thinking United, that’s really the way to compete with JetBlue.

Limited Carry-Ons: When is the first airline going to buy planes specifically designed for carry-on luggage? Why not have less room in the cargo hold and double-decker carry-on bins?

Small Seats: It is virtually impossible to use a laptop in coach, even though the plane is continuing to the bay area after Colorado and virtually everyone on board wants to use a laptop.

System Tray Insanity: I’m 40,000 feet above the nearest internet connection, yet my Windows system tray wants to alert me every 5 minutes that “Outlook cannot be reached”, “Wireless connection unavailable”, “Network cable unplugged.” I’m offline. Deal with it.

Exact Change Please: Will they ever give stewardesses a change drawer? For 40 years they have been collecting cash for drinks and they still have to run around like idiots looking for change. Here’s an idea: Why not let me pay for drinks on the plane with frequent flyer miles?

Denver Airport: Get off the plane in the unfathomably huge Denver Airport. The terminal stretches endlessly in both directions. The sign on my right says “Terminal”, the sign on my left says “Baggage.” Hmmm.

Hotel Light Switches: Nicer hotels tend to have multiple desk lamps for a soft home-like effect. However, to the guest who has never been in the room and is arriving after dart, a single light switch at the front of the room would be far more usable.

Bath Products: What genius put high-end shampoo in a bottle with a metal screw top. A top which is essentially un-openable with soapy, wet hands.

Cabs with Cupholders: Cabs in Denver have cupholders! Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this in New York?

Painkillers in Vaults: Not the first to notice this, but when you’ve got a monster hangover and have just been through a cavity search, you really shouldn’t have to spend 5 minutes trying to open a security container for pain relief.

Isn’t traveling fun?