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The websites of some of the UK's budget airlines are some of the worst to use, with four of them scoring 50% or less for usabilty, with Ryanair coming last with just 41%.

This is the verdict of Webcredible's Flights Online study, which looks at the websites of 20 airlines and travel agents in the UK. British Airways topped the table with 71%, closely followed by Expedia and Virgin Atlantic on 70%.

Usability has improved since last year's study, with the average score increasing from 51.5% to 56.7%. The biggest improvements were made by Expedia and Virgin Atlantic, with their scores increasing by 17% and 15% respectively.

It's no surprise that Ryanair is bottom of the class in this study either. I looked at the site after its blogger-baiting episode in February and found plenty of room for improvement.

Usability issues on the Ryanair site I highlighted in my post included poor search options, such as being unable to search for all flights from the same city rather than specific airports and with flexible departure dates, the lack of options for refining search results ws also an issue, while many searches drew a blank, leaving the user at a dead end.

The study has highlighted these points, as well as:

  • Criticising the lack of airport information on offer, location, transport links etc.
  • Automatically signing customers up for extras like insurance and making it difficult to opt out. 
  • Making rules on flight cancellations and changes hard to find.
  • Highlighting user input errors. 

Booking flights online can be a complex process, which makes excellent user experience even more important. While Ryanair may not worry too much about usability issues, there is plenty of competition in this sector so customers can easily find a competitor's website if the booking process becomes too difficult.

Customers are drawn to the Ryanair website by the cheap flights on offer, but they may not tolerate poor usability for ever, especially if other budget airlines can improve their own sites.

Graham Charlton

Published 28 April, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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UsabilityTest.com

This is not suprising at all! Ryanair website is one of the worst buying experiences ever. With every screen there is "nice" suprise of another fee being added and when you are on the confirmation page, the final price is often higher than on other airlines. 

Plus I always get a feeling that they have some clever algorithms in place which make sure when you are just looking (e.g. you select 1 adult) then price is cheap. When you get serious into buying (e.g. you select 2 adults) then price suddenly goes up.

over 7 years ago

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Anton Stoyanov, Managing Director at Stoy Solutions

While I strongly agree that budget airlines have horrible usability and would love to see better looking sites when I book....

I think that most budget airlines have very smart designs - and not user centric. I know you might ask how may you design smart without being user centric, but that's the whole customer experience they offer - they treat you bad, you have no expecations and you pay peanuts (and you pay for any peanuts you may want!).

Their websites have proven massively successfull as a business model, so I think they have their "user experience" right, which in their case means "horrible" from our perspective.

Customers are drawn to the Ryanair website by the cheap flights on offer, but they may not tolerate poor usability for ever, especially if other budget airlines can improve their own sites.

Again - I disagree with that. People who choose Ryanair have a different mentality and the price is number one factor, no matter how hard it is to book or how much advertising you see through the booking process...

over 7 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

People who choose Ryanair have a different mentality and the price is number one factor, no matter how hard it is to book or how much advertising you see through the booking process...

So usability doesnt put them off you think? They'll wade through treacle just for a RyanAir flight!

Depressing thought. Makes me wonder if all the efforts that I and other web performance testers put in to reducing sporadic errors and slowdowns, is also of no value to certain client bases?

Being positive though - RyanAir regular users who willing to put up with the pain are one audience - but wouldn't they sell more tickets if the site was friendlier in general?  Surely there's a few % to be gained there...  "abit of usability help here.. abit of web monitoring there,and it soon adds up to real money" hee hee

over 7 years ago

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David Ranby, Internet Marketing Consultant at Braid Consulting

Apropo usability, I agree Anton has a point; Ryanair have a model to drive every penny out of every opportunity. No matter how much they are told something isnt "best practise" its fair to assume Mr O'Leary wouldn't put up with a site that didnt squeeze maximum conversion out of its visitors. So is it that the consultants are reccomending the "best practise" and the business owners are happy with what's working?

Perhaps the issue is that Ryanair need to increase their expectations and then the user will get a good experience and Ryanair will be amazed at the new conversion as it breaks all their targets?

As an aside, the Web Credible system let them down as no link to down load the report was sent with the acknowledgement email for sign up to their email newsletter (the pay off to recieve the report). Amusingly their site states

"Thank you for contacting Webcredible. We'll do everything we can to get back to you within 2-3 working days."

Is it good usability to suggest you cant respond to a direct email to the organisation in less than 2 days?

over 7 years ago

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Anton Stoyanov, Managing Director at Stoy Solutions

I was sure that there will be fights.

I feel like the biggest gap in the study is that product studies / usability reviews should be assessed by the customers, not by a 3rd party usability expert who would never use the service. Maybe a few people would be surprised if RyanAir's own customers are "not that bothered".

Even if that's not true. The only real question is:

"Would you fly with us again?"

and the average RyanAir customer says "If you are cheap, hell yeah!"

In all seriousness - I think the "net promoter score" model is a bigger factor than usability, especially for non-middle-market players like Ryanair.

Here is the full article and some ideas on airlines too:

http://www.ndnadvertising.com/PDFs/Survey/One_Number_You_Need_To_Grow.pdf

Hot stuff

over 7 years ago

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David Ranby, Internet Marketing Consultant at Braid Consulting

Small update; took a pop at Webcredible and their email response time; well I got the correct link Wed am, following an attempt on Tuesday afternoon; so they did better than the promised 48hr response.

about 7 years ago

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