The Worst Website Design I Must Use Often: Southwest Airlines

southwest_website_sux.jpgWe all have a website that at times feels like the bane of our existence.  In my case that site happens to be Southwest Airlines.  Personally, I feel that it suffers from some uniquely bad work flow engineering and if you have used the site at all, let alone as many times as I have had to use it I’m sure you can relate.

So, just what makes it so atrocious?  The first page is actually okay.  You can find what you want quickly and efficiently so the demerits don’t start there. It’s when you’ve actually picked out a flight that you want to purchase where the user experience utterly collapses.  Let me explain.

First, there is no intelligence built into the page at all.  If there’s a field that requires data, you better enter the requested data.  Forget something and your transaction will fail.  Okay, I admit, this isn’t all that unusual and if I’m too careless to enter in the requested data my transaction should fail, right?

But then, when it does fail (and let me assure you, it is inevitable when you are late for a flight, or running out of battery power that you will miss some tiny field that Southwest demands you  fill such as whether your address is your home or office) you can’t simply click the back button and enter the missing data.  Ohh noo.  That would be too simple and easy.  Instead you get to start from scratch and re-enter every bit of data that you’d just entered previously – and of course now that you are annoyed and later than ever your chances of missing some other field or even entering the data in a field but not making sure it stayed entered is going to go up exponentially and if you blow it again – guess what – you get to try for the third time, or the forth, or the ninth… until you get it right.  There are plenty of second chances with this site it just that they all start from zero.

Better still while the site won’t leave the fields that you entered populated with the data, the cookies the site keeps will hold whatever you entered for eternity.  Of course God forbid you entered the wrong thing because it will still be there too just waiting to jinx you when you’re in a hurry.

It’s secure too. I mean how many sites do you use frequently that won’t permit you to store a profile on line to make you life easier, but insist on cookieing your credit card number so that anyone that uses your computer can buy themselves a trip on Southwest courtesy of your bank account?  It’s stupid but that’s the way it works.

I have to wonder if the execs at Southwest have ever tried to use their website?  If they did have they ever gone back?  Did it not occur to anyone there that the most valuable travelers they have are the ones that fly often and that we might not want to enter the same stupid information every single time we use their site?  (let alone enter it half a dozen times until the darn transaction actually processes) I swear, if I have to continue to fill out this ludicrous page I’m going to start paying the extra fifty bucks to fly United or American and consider it an anti-frustration tax – and one that is probably well worth paying.

After all, if a company like Southwest doesn’t care enough about people like me that fly often enough to be bothered by this bad design to actually improve upon it, perhaps they don’t deserve my business in the first place.  Honestly, I’d like to know why they think the current set-up is okay, why they cookie my credit card number but won’t keep the fields populated for thirty seconds so I don’t have to re-enter everything, and why, by God, they don’t simply let me store a “traveler’s profile” so that I don’t have to enter the data again, ever???

Please, someone from Southwest, get back to me with some answers.  I’ll be easy to spot…I’ll be the guy sitting in the airport lounge – most likely at LAX – looking apoplectic and pounding away on my laptop as if there’s something on the keyboard I want to kill.  There is; it’s your website. Please fix it.  Soon.

About Oliver

Oliver Starr is a well known blogger, speaker and serial entrepreneur. His current blogging is focused on mobile technology and applications, green (eco-protective) technologies, and entrepreneurs and their companies. He is currently engaged as the Community Evangelist for, a new social curation tool. Oliver was also a professional cyclist and six time member of the US National Cycling Team.
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4 Responses to The Worst Website Design I Must Use Often: Southwest Airlines

  1. Paula Berg - Southwest Airlines says:

    Hey Oliver – Apologies for the delayed response. I’m sorry to hear that our website is such a thorn in your side. Of course, we want our website to be as easy to manage as possible, and you raise some legitimate concerns. I’ll touch base with some of our folks who may be able to address your specific concerns and get back to you. In the meantime, feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss further.

    Paula Berg
    Southwest Airlines

  2. admin says:


    Hi. I’m glad you wrote back. Please understand that I like Southwest. I fly your airline frequently, particularly between Los Angeles and San Francisco or Oakland and Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

    If I didn’t use Southwest so often I probably wouldn’t be so acutely aware of the deficiencies in the site design as it relates to buying a ticket online. That said, I ALWAYS wonder what your developers were thinking when I use the site.

    That’s because there are so many problems with the purchasing process that I literally grit my teeth in frustration every time I use it. This is especially true if I’m ever in a hurry and doubly true if I’m trying to complete a transaction using anything other than a full fledged computer (vs. Say an iPhone or Nokia N810 or N95 Smartphone).

    First I have to ask, why doesn’t Southwest let me store a profile so that I don’t have to fill out every single field every single time? I mean even if you didn’t want the responsibility of storing credit card information you could still store my preferences including my name, address, phone number, etc.

    You already have this information for all your frequent flyers anyway so why not make it possible to log into the site using your SWA FF# and have that automatically populate the rest of the data for us? That in and of itself would probably save people five to ten minutes (and hair pulling frustration) each and every time they buy a ticket.

    You could even let people choose to save their most frequently used routes so that logging in could instantiate some logic that lets a person choose the days of their flight and click “fly my regular route” and that would be enough to bring up the options available for the day the visitor specifies.

    Choosing dates and times would lead to a second dialog. Payment. If you’re storing credit card information then a drop down dialog would allow the user to select which card he or she wished to use – a secondary confirmation such as requesting the CCV # from the card or the last 4 digits of the primary cardholder’s social security # could be used.

    This would be a vast improvement over the current workflow.

    Even if there was some reason why Southwest didn’t want to enable this sort of functionality (although I find it hard to imagine why not considering most other airlines do this), the current site could be dramatically improved.

    First, yours is the only company I’ve ever encountered where the data in the dialog box requesting the credit card number persists when the user has the auto-fill feature enabled on Firefox. In case you don’t know what I mean, this feature automatically completes entries when the user enters the first digit or letter or uses the down arrow to see the full list.

    The problem with your site is that most auto-fill information is not persistent, however the credit card number is. This defeats most security for the users and makes Southwest look stupid since my email address has to be entered each time but my CC# is there for anyone’s abuse.

    What should happen is that with the exception of the CC# all the information should persist, especially if the user makes an error and has to back up a screen so that only the field that needs to be corrected must be changed instead of forcing the user to re-enter all the data a second time and risk missing something else.

    Also, it is ridiculous that some fields would cause the process to error out in the first place. Who cares if my salutation is there or not? (this is an exaggeration but you require some fields to be completed (such as whether my number is home or office) that are so totally trivial that it is mind-numbing that it is required at all, let alone that my transaction could fail for want of selecting such a radio button in the first place.

    At any rate, I’m glad you’ve taken the time to consider my recommendations. If you do decide to improve upon your current site I would be pleased to be considered for usability testing as it is probably obvious that I have given this issue some thought.

    While I don’t do site development myself, if you need a recommendation, I am well known in the Silicon Valley and Los Angeles technology communities and could make a recommendation if you need one.


    Oliver Starr, Editor

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  4. Nick says:

    You must be pretty excited about the total overhaul of the SWA website. 🙂

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