Air Canada’s Botched Boarding Passes

As the advancement of technology continues companies must constantly upgrade their infrastructure to stay relevant in the increasingly competitive world market.

With the boarding pass playing such a vital role in allowing a passenger to complete their journey it is paramount that the e-boarding pass be a simple and seamless as it would be with a paper version. With this simple yet important requirement for the e-boarding pass it’s amazing to see that Air Canada has created such an unusable product that manages to fail on numerous levels. But where Air Canada manages to fail Canada’s second largest airline WestJet has managed to succeed with their e-boarding pass solution.

Firstly is the way passengers access the e-boarding pass. WestJet sends passengers the boarding pass as an image attachment to a check-in confirmation email, where as Air Canada provides passengers a web link in their confirmation email. An attachment can be downloaded onto the device (or cached in the mail app) but a link can only be loaded with an internet connection. Loading this boarding pass web link may be simple enough from the comfort of your own home but can quickly become a nightmare when travelling. Inconsistent, unpredictable, and spotty wifi access (to not even speak of roaming data charges) make internet while travelling something no one wants to be dependant on. The last thing you want to be worrying about when you are running late for a flight in a city you are unfamiliar with is trying to find an internet connection (which invariably requires a registration) to load the boarding pass webpage. It is unclear why Air Canada had to go with this more complicated solution when, like WestJet has done, a simple image attachment would have sufficed.

Once a passenger has managed to access the boarding pass image they need to present it at security. In testing this, having presented the page exactly as it loaded on the phone, the security officer recommended zooming in on the QR code to make it easier for the scanner to read. Pinching the screen to have the QR code fill the screen allowed the scanner to quickly read the info. When the flight was ready to board passengers approach the gate and present their ID and their boarding pass. In testing this the boarding pass was presented as it was (zoomed in on the QR code) when it was successfully be scanned at security. Unfortunately this did not work at the gate. After an unsuccessful scanning attempt the gate agent chose to manually check the name against the list in the computer to proceed with the boarding. Only after doing this did the agent mention off-handedly that it might have worked if the QR code was smaller (how it was originally formatted but failed to work at security). This complex process is borderline unacceptable for a modern airline to be providing to its passengers, especially when you consider what the competition is capable of. The WestJet e-boarding pass, for example, requires no adjustment from the passenger and works perfectly as-is when the boarding pass image is opened for viewing.

Finally, is the issue of the archival functionality of the boarding pass. This could include keeping a record of proof of the flight, use in expense or insurance claims, or for the redemption of airline rewards points. Normally these tertiary functions of the ticket take place once the passenger has completed their trip. While passengers could reasonably be expected to want to access this information in the days after their flight, if it is at the beginning of a longer trip then they may not get that chance in the days or even weeks after their flight. This would be a simple case of following the link that you use to access the boarding pass on the day of your flight if the link actually still worked. Problem is, in testing this the link to the e-boarding pass was already dead within the week after the flight. This is a serious inconvenience for passengers as the airline not presume to know what their passengers would need access to their e-boarding pass for. None of these possible uses for the e-boarding pass are possible once the link is dead.

There is no excuse for a national flag-carrier airline, like Air Canada, to be operating the level of broken and dysfunctional ticket system that they do. The overly complex design of Air Canada’s system fails to effortlessly pass passengers through security, onto the plane, and through the remainder of their interaction with the airline. Air Canada needs to look no further than their closest domestic rival WestJet for what to do instead.

Hayward Peirce Written by:

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