Web Mender

An incessant whine on web design.

November 01, 2002

Finding Luggage Restrictions on Airline Sites

Airlines post policies on their web sites. Can passengers find the relevant ones?

A few months ago, I was alerted to an MSNBC article on the new habit of airlines to enforce their luggage size restrictions. My friend was preparing for a cross-country trip on Northwest, and had purchased a new suitcase expressly for the trip. The suitcase promised it was the right size for a week-long journey, but I knew to ask about linear dimension inches. My friend, like most travelers, had never heard of these restrictions. A phone call to Northwest confirmed that two checked bags, each not to exceed 62 linear inches (the sum of the width, height, and depth) was their limit on "domestic free luggage allowance per ticketed customer".

The MSNBC article cites online policies as exempting the airlines from customer tantrums, so I wanted to see how easy this information was to find on the web site. Northwest seemed like a logical place to start. I was immediately stymied by Northwest's domain: nwa.com. Northwest.com is somebody else, of course. Having found the site, now where do I look? Terms of Use is for online restrictions, not real ones.

Long ago having learned that Google's search results are often easier to use than individual sites' searches, I tried site:nwa.com luggage restriction, which got me to At the Airport. This page, assuming you wade past headings like "When should I get to the airport?" and "Where can I check in?", has the luggage restrictions. Fine, now how to get here? From the homepage you have to divine that "Customers First" and "At the Airport" are relevant to luggage restrictions.

I tried a few other searches, and discovered that the luggage restrictions are also detailed in the Luggage Services Frequently Asked Questions. To get there from the home page, you need merely realize that the Help link isn't just help for the web site. Although "Luggage Services" is less clear to me than "Luggage Policies" or "Luggage Information", it's passable because the operative word "Luggage" is first.

US Airways fared (ha, ha) much better. The Policies link is in the top navigation bar, and the number one entry is Baggage. Not only that, but the size limit was visible without scrolling on my 1024x768 screen! I'm inclined to say they're so smart because they have such a strong presence in Pittsburgh, but that's just personal bias.

Continental, on the other hand, has some work to do. The Continental.com Terms, Conditions and Legal Notices and the Help links only have information about online services. Well, there's always Search, right? Only if your browser has JavaScript enabled! D'oh! The appropriate information is available under Checked Baggage and Allowances, but I only know that after searching Google for site:continental.com luggage size. Of course, that page at Continental produces an error message, so I had to rely on Google's cache. Gleesh.

Southwest has the same problem as Northwest. Can you remember "I Fly SWA" for their domain? From there, it's off to the Travel Center, which could be anything from "how to travel on SWA" to "here are links to our many business partners with other travel services". It is the former, and Checked Baggage Policy is on that page, although almost off the bottom of my screen. The navigation bar at the left offers a Policies link, which actually goes to the same place because Baggage is the first subheading. Thanks to an excessively large graphic of luggage tags, the information we seek is immediately off the bottom of my screen.

Delta gets off to a bad start because every one of their pages tells me I might need JavaScript for the page to work. They may cram their web compatibility statement where the sun don't shine, because they've chosen to not be compatible. On the bright side, I only had to click on Customer Care, Frequently Asked Questions, Travel FAQs, and Baggage FAQs to find the right page. And of course, all of those pages told me I needed JavaScript, which I clearly did not. The last three of those links were presented as tiny text in a navigation bar at the left. In every case, I thought I'd hit a page that wouldn't work at all because I didn't have JavaScript. The area of a page usually devoted to content was always devoid of links. Only the Travel FAQs page's body text mentioned "the appropriate link at the left" to indicate where to find the useful content of the page.

I liked jetBlue when I used them to get to JFK cheaply, and their site has a particularly clean aesthetic. A click on travel info with an icon depicting a suitcase(!) takes us to how to jetBlue and then baggage information. The desired paragraph is right at the top. Incidentally, the capitalizations or lack thereof are all as they appeared on jetBlue's site. I'm amused to notice that they sometimes use "JetBlue" in the page title even when they fail to capitalize everything else.

Of course, the chances that I'll actually boycott an airline that has a crappy site are slim, since price differences can help me hold my nose during the navigation.

Posted by ventura at November 01, 2002 03:59 AM