web Musings of The Global Traveller

Monday, November 23, 2009

E-tickets are more convenient, yeah right

Ticketing 'bot fails

I have finally received the last ticket bought in the Oneworld 10th anniversary sale, which ended 3rd November. The quick and supposedly automated online booking process got stuck and required some chasing up to get human intervention to push the ticketing through. I knew I needed to do this because I did not receive an email e-ticket (although did get the quick booking confirmation) and verified using the various online tools such as checkmytrip that the ticket had not been issued (as opposed to a glitch with the email). When the booking is ticketed these online tools should show a ticket number.

In this case the ticket would have been issued quicker as a manual paper one.

Passing the buck

There are reports on Flyer Talk of people needing changes mid-itinerary (eg during irregular operations) being forced to wait for the original ticketing airline to deal with it. Not so convenient when you are halfway around the world and the ticket desks of the ticketing airline are all closed because it is night time/weekend/public holiday for them.

With a paper ticket you can easily get changes from any airline on the ticket (subject to the rules of the fare of course). This also is possible with e-tickets, but only amongst airlines whose computer systems properly talk to each other. Other combinations (eg between American and Cathay Pacific) are "impossible" to change, or may be changed by one airline only to not stick. This is a worse issue because the first sign of problem may be later in the trip when the second airline tells you your ticket was cancelled (I've had this happen and it is not pleasant).

The passenger should not be required to have extensive knowledge of the workings of airline systems. I don't think it is too much to ask that processes for dealing with tickets involving multiple airlines should work seamlessly.

Still need paper

With few exceptions (eg in markets where mobile boarding passes are allowed), an e-ticket still requires the passenger to have a printout of the ticket information and itinerary. This is to show immigration/security if needed (they do not have access to airline reservation or ticketing systems), and also as backup when computer systems fail.

Earlier this year I encountered an airline's total computer failure while flying. As I didn't have a printout with me, ultimately they had to accept my word that I was booked on the flight (with a check that the passenger numbers tallied their register). Fortunately for me, I have status with that airline and they were happy to accept my word, so I wasn't stranded. Not everyone would be so lucky.

More restrictions

It seems like yesterday that around the world tickets could have 24 or 28 or more flights in the itinerary. With paper tickets there is no limit on the number of flights - you just add more coupons. E-tickets, however, have a strict 16 sector limit. So around the world fare rules were changed to reflect this. There was no reduction in fare to compensate for this devaluation.

The issue, however, is more than the loss of value. The limit creates difficulties if a 16 sector itinerary requires additional flights, for example when an airline ceases to operate a route. If a reroute with additional flights is required, better hope it is late in the itinerary when the airline can just delete the older (already flown) sectors to keep within the 16 sector limit. If it is early in the itinerary, or before the start, then a mess is created. It hasn't happened to me yet, but with several complicated 16 sector itineraries ticketed for travel next year it probably is a matter of time until I have to deal with this issue.

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