Recently I was in the process of looking for a cheap flight to Miami using my favorite flight search app, Hipmunk. Hipmunk is a great way to easily search all the major airlines (except for Southwest). Southwest prefers visitors come directly to them to book their flight. No problem. I navigated to Southwest's mobile site only to find a mobile site full of usability problems. Here are the top usability areas that had issues: Flight Date Selection, Forms (short form fields, no guest log in available, no back button), and Clickable area confusion.
Flight Date Selection
Southwest uses a
drop-down menu to select flight departure and return dates (1st and 2nd screenshot). The problem
is no one remembers what days of the weekend correspond to the month's
numerical dates. You have to look at a physical calendar or exit out of
the browser and open the native calendar to determine what day next
Saturday is. Not only is this annoying, it can lead to serious errors
when selecting the correct date of travel.
In order to reduce confusion Southwest should utilize a graphical calendar interface (see Hipmunk example to the right). Users will be able to verify the date selection and not be surprised when they get to the airport gate and notice they bought a flight that leaves the next Friday! Who remembers what day of the week the 23rd falls on?
Form Usability Problems
Advancing my way through the flight selection process I noticed Southwest does not provide a back button to correct selection errors. They provide a ‘Start Over’ button, but no users wants to go back to the beginning because they selected the wrong flight (1st screenshot). You may say, “Well, the user could just click the browser’s back button.” They could, but must users are afraid to use the browser’s back button. They don’t want to potentially lose data and have to re-enter 10 fields of information!
As I entered my email address into the field I noticed how my email address was not fully displayed in the field (2nd screenshot). It was too short! This wasn’t a problem this time for me, but users in general will not be able to spot and correct typing errors. This applies to any field not just email.
After I selected the flights I was taken to the “Who is Traveling” page (3rd screenshot). My initial though was, “Wait, I have a Southwest Rapid Rewards (RR) account. Shouldn’t I be able to log in and pre-populate most of my travel details?” That’s a negative ghost rider! In order to log into your Rapid Rewards account you must navigate back to the Home page and then click Rapid Rewards and log in. After review of the flight selection, give the user the option to continue as a guest, log into their RR account, or create a RR account. This will make the world a happier place!
Clickable Area Confusion
The problem throughout the Southwest Mobile site is the inability to determine what is clickable and what is not. For example, on the screenshot to the right, where do I click to select the flight (blue link?, Business Select?, Anytime?). It’s not clear. The user may eventually click the right link, but they will be confused and their overall experience will suffer.
The combination of the above usability issues will usually leave users with a bad taste in their mouth. They may not completely leave Southwest as a customer, but their overall impression of the company and brand will decrease. Not good, especially when other major airlines have good mobile sites.