The journey of buying plane tickets to Hamburg from Bucharest — An UX Case Study

Recently my parents were invited to visit my uncle in Hamburg. Since my parents are not so tech savvy, they asked me to find and book a flight to Hamburg for them.

I documented the entire process and found out some key pain points, which I will go into details later.

The main goal is straightforward.
Fly my parents to Hamburg and fly them back.

TL;DR
The whole experience is spread across three different platforms, some experience flaws emerge along the way.

Here is the process of the book-and-fly in simple steps:
1. Search for flights
2. Book flight
3. Check-in for outgoing flight
4. Fly to Hamburg 🛫
5. Visit Hamburg
6. Check-in for flight back
7. Fly to Bucharest 🛫

Step 1 — Research, find, book

Since I have previously searched for flights, I know of the existence of a service for finding the cheapest flights called skyscanner.com. There might be some other, but you know how it goes —

The shortest path is the one you know

Using chrome on my mobile phone I open up the website and start filling the destination, dates, passenger numbers and hit search flights.

Skyscanner screenshots

  1. Search
  2. Results
  3. Choose airline

I land on a results page with flights.

→ I select the top result since it is the cheapest option and is a direct flight.

Select the ticket provider, again → cheapest option on the top.

Get redirected to the ticket provider. In my case → https://budgetair.lv

Screenshot from BudgetAir.lv with flight details

Notice the lv (Latvia). I get a little confused. Anyway, I check that the flight is from Bucharest (OTP) airport to Hamburg (HAM), check the dates, learn about the airline (Tarom), confirm price (in euro). Everything seems fine.

Create account on budgetair.lv → Fill out passenger details → Pay

Get flight reservation info on email.

All good for now

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Step 2 — Online Check-in

I bought the tickets 7 days before the flight, so I knew I had to check-in at some point before the flight. Haven't checked the email since.

On the morning prior to flight at 07:30 AM I open up the gmail on desktop to find how I can check-in. Find the email from budgetair.lv and click on Manage Booking button from one of the emails. I land on budgetair.lv see the booking details, click the check-in button.

Screenshot with budgetair.lv booking

→ I land on airline's website (tarom)

Screenshot with tarom’s “user-friendly” web page

I scanned the page for a quick "check-in button", read some confusing texts about how, where, when to check in, scroll down, scroll up. I see a banner with a button "CHECK-IN ONLINE" → Click that

Land on Check-in form

Screenshot with first step of the check-in process

After I selected the kind of ticket I have (E-ticket)- I land on this step

The step that lets you find your flight using the details found on the E-ticket.

Screenshot with the step after you

Go to gmail

Find the budgetair emails. Notice how only one of the two emails has an attachment? And also there are 3 mails there (as seen right after Budgetair.com). That is the one that I first opened

Find the attached "e-ticket" PDF

My quick thoughts

The Preview of the PDF shows two "numbers" associated with check-in. As I know I have to use the E-ticket number for the check-in process I immediately try to copy that, but couldn't do it in this preview, so I had to download the PDF instead.

Screenshot of the PDF preview

→ Download PDF. Open. Copy. Go back to check in.

Paste the e-ticket number (281……), fill the rest of the details, fill passenger details, one by one. → Get an error.

Error. Could not respond to request. Consult an airport customer service agent for assistance

Try again, with the other passenger first. (who knows, whats happening?)

→ Get an error.

→ Get a notification of session expiry

No goes back?

→ Try to use the other "Online Check-in number" (EQ…) — Get an error.

→ Try to get help — Click on help

New window pops-up, I fill all the details until flight number. I realize I can't fill that since the flight starts with BLV-XXXXXX.

Well. Close that.

Try to find another way to get help.

Go to homepage. Find number. Call

→ The robot asks to choose a language, tells about GDPR related stuff, about flight info, check-in info and…

the fact that check-ins must be made 30 hours before the flight

Panic Mode — Activated

Call Center by Delwar Hossain from the Noun Project

→ The service desk lady takes over. She asks what was the problem. I tell her I try to check-in and I get an error. She asks me the flight booking number.

→ I open gmail, tell her
BLV-……

She can't use that and asks me to tell her the number that starts with 281

I immediately notice that the number she needs is the e-ticket number and say it to her.

She identifies the flight from Bucharest to Hamburger 🍔 (yes, that's what she said 🤣, we both laughed a little). Then she proceeds to say that the code for my check-in is M565H2 and I should use this when I want to check-in and that the check-in is available now for the passengers.

I try to keep her busy while I look for this 'code' anywhere in my bookings, but to no luck. I asked if this is the only code I need to finish my check-in and she assures me of that. We hang up.

The e-ticket number really was 13-digits long, but I got an error using that.

I go back to check-in, fill the E-ticket number or Booking Reference field with the code she gave me. Fill the rest of the passenger details and finally get my tickets.

In conclusion

Is hard to tell who can fix the problem in case. A big confusion is caused by the inconsistency of keywords across platforms:

Booking Reference vs
E-ticket vs
Airline Reference vs
Flight Reference

Some typography improvements could be used on Tarom's online check-in page.

Current check-in page with confusing CTA

The redesigned version ↓

Beter main CTA visibility

A further step would improve the visibility of other check-in related information

I found that the text used on this page was massively repeated, so I decided to rearrange it and make it more readable. Also I replaced the link for checking in with a button — since it is the main purpose someone lands here. To check in, why make it less obvious.

Please notice in which case you can find the check-in info for flights operated by KLM

Going further with the check-in form

to be continued…

It has clear and concise design

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Pavel Lupu

Pavel Lupu

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Entrepreneur. UX designer. Front-end Dev. Humanbeliever.