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Budget airlines EasyJet and Ryanair have made great strides in terms of website usability, while British Airways provides the best online experience overall, according to a new study.
Webcredible's 2010 Flights Online study has assessed the websites of 20 UK travel agent and airline websites against usability best practice guidelines.
BA is top with a score of 78%, followed by EasyJet on 77% and Virgin Atlantic on 75%. Ryanair, bottom is last year's study, has improved to reach eighth place with a score of 66%.
Budget airlines improve online
In the same study last year, budget airlines scored very poorly, with four achieving marks of less than 50%.
Last year, EasyJet was placed at 15 with a score of 50%; this year it is second with 77%, while Ryanair has improved from 41% to 66%.
In the case of Ryanair, it has improved in a number of areas, from providing more functionality to help customers during the booking process, and providing clear error messaging and showing users how to resolve errors.
In the case of EasyJet, had it provided a clear contact number, it would have been top of the study.
Travel disruption and communications
The recent disruption of flights caused by volcanic ash meant that airlines needed to provide up to date information to customers hoping to get flights. (Icelandair provided a great example of how this could be achieved).
Webcredible found that 17 of the 20 sites studied provided information and customer alerts on the homepage, though some did this more clearly than others. This kind a messaging should be displayed prominently on the homepage where it cannot be missed, but some sites didn't make these alerts clear enough.
British Airways provides a prominent alert on the homepage about the cabin crew strike, with links to further information:
Providing contact numbers
A clear contact number acts as a trustmark for customers when shopping online, and also provides a route for people to seek assistance or reassurance during the booking process, but this is one area where overall scores were low, with half the sites studied scoring one or less out of five.
It is the carriers' website which are the biggest culprits here, with an average score of 0.8, compared with 3.2 for travel agents. Even some of those that do have contact numbers don't make them clear enough, or even charge customers for them, in the case of Ryanair.
This is an area where travel sites are missing an opportunity to convert more customers. Travel products can be complex and customers are likely to have some questions they would like answered before they book, while others may simply prefer to research flight availability and prices online before booking through another channel.
By providing a clear contact number, these customers can get the reassurance they require before booking their holidays.