Offline online check-in

I’m flying for a short business trip abroad soon. The airline, El-Al, has a new feature: allowing passengers to do some of the check-in procedure from home, through the Internet.

This has the advantage of possibly saving time if the airport is busy. And it is certainly expected to be busy now, since it’s a holiday season.

It also allows to select a meal type (if some special meal, such as vegetarian, gluten-free, etc, is required), and select the seat. Which probably isn’t that big a deal for people going through travel agent, as they can do that in advance as well. But I suppose people arranging flights by themselves, or whose travel agent is lazy, can use that.

It also has, for now, a separate station/line for luggage. So until this becomes popular, the lines may be shorter. An advantage which will quickly go away once it becomes more popular, and the lines will even out.

Though, still, some of the questions involved with the check-in will be spared, since they were already answered. This isn’t much on a personal basis, since filling it out on the web isn’t much quicker than talking to a person at the station. But it counts on a line, since you don’t also have to wait that time for all the people in front of you.

Actually, yes, the advantages are there, but aren’t that big. So for now, since it’s a relatively new service, they’re also offering some minor bonuses for people who use this service (A free cup coffee at one of the airport coffee-shops, and a 25$ discount for purchases over a 100$ in one of the duty-free shops). For them it has the advantage of reducing loads from their people at the check-in counter, so if they can save a salary it should be worth it.

I decided to take advantage, and try the new service.

The first screen asked for the last name, and the ticket number. In my case an electronic-ticket, also printed through their website. Or, more correctly, printed through their site by my company’s travel agent, and faxed to us. And yes, it’s always amusing to have a printed page containing underlined “click here” links. Somehow clicking on the paper doesn’t help.

That went well, and I reached a second screen. This one allowed changing the listed last name (Which I don’t quite get), allowed to enter a frequent-flier number for people who have them, asked for the phone number, and had a long list for meal types.

Really long list, compared to what I expected. I guess there are plenty of people with unusual requirements for their meals. Sadly enough there wasn’t an option to choose a non-kosher meal, but that’s not really a surprise given that El-Al is the official Israeli airline, and have to keep kosher. They did, however, have a few meals designated as extra-kosher and such.

And I tried to get to the next page. I was greeted with an animation letting me know that the check-in is in progress, and asking me to wait.

A message which was shortly replaced by another one, telling me that the online check-in failed, and asking me to call their office (with a phone number). The number was for support on the online check-in, so calling it an office wasn’t exactly right, but never mind.

Since I was using Firefox as a browser, and not Internet Explorer, and there are still sites designed badly enough to only work in Explorer, I decided to open explorer and try again. Same error. But the screens along the way looked better. So the site is badly designed, but at least designed to be functional. Functional at the times when it is actually working, that is, which wasn’t the case here.

I called the number. A nice girl answered and asked how she can help me.

I detailed the problem to her. She asked for the flight details, to check for the flight times. The online check-in option is only valid at a specific time range before the flight, so they probably assume most problems are the result of people trying to do it too early. Though, frankly, if the error message for that is the general error I received, instead of a specific message explaining the problem, then the site is even worse designed than I thought.

After checking a little, and seeing that everything should be in order, she said that maybe they are having some temporary problems at their end, and that I should try again a little later. I pressed her for a more exact estimate, of how later is later enough (Not wanting to try later, and talk to them again being told that I did it too soon), and she said to try in about two hours.

Two and a half hours later (spares are important) I tried again. Same thing.

I called again, and this time it took a while before the call was answered. But the one answering was the exact same girl. Which could be chance, or could be an indication that they don’t have too many people there in the online check-in support department.

She even remembered me.

After explaining to her that the problem didn’t go away, she asked for more details, and said she’ll try to do the check-in from her own station, and will see how it goes.

She reached the page with the meal types and phones, put in everything, hit the button to go to the next page, and… after a few seconds I heard her say a very surprised “Oy”, followed by a still surprised statement of “It happened to me too!”.

It made me want to say something like “Of course it did, dear. There was nothing I could have done wrong until now to ruin it. It can’t be that I just can’t enter my phone number correctly, is it?” . But she was really nice, and it wasn’t her fault, so I didn’t.

She then put me on hold, while she went to check it out. This took quite a while.

After getting back, and apologizing for the delay, she said that she managed to do it on her station. I asked what’s the trick, and she told me that they really did had a problem at their end, which they now found and fixed. She also thanked me for reporting the problem to them. This, of course, make me suspect that the system is rarely used so far, or someone else would have stumbled upon it previously. It’s not like I was doing something very unique after all.

She then verified with me the seating arrangements. Actually, she quoted a seat number and asked me if that’s alright. It was quite apparent she’s not used to doing check-in with customers. Anyone who isn’t well familiar with the layout of the plane, and I’m not, won’t know what the seat number indicate. Seats numbers on plane are, sadly, not standard. So I just asked her the relevant details, and confirmed that everything is alright.

She then finished my online check-in, from her station, printed it, and faxed me the resulting boarding pass.

In this case they didn’t really save any manpower by having me do the online check-in. More like a phone-in check-in, actually.

So now I’ll go on a flight, with a do-it-yourself ticket that was faxed to me, and a do-it-yourself boarding pass that was also faxed to me. Life’s amusing sometimes…

In this series (El-Al online check-in):

  1. Offline online check-in
  2. How El-Al’s online check-in worked in real life

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.