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A few weeks ago I reviewed the state of web design in Asia’s airline industry.
It was surprising to find that these major brands expected customers to put up with clunky, out-dated web forms and a difficult purchase journey.
But Cathay Pacific was clearly already aware of the issue and has just unveiled a new responsive site as part of a wider rebranding exercise that seeks to present a “simpler, cleaner, more customer-focused Cathay Pacific brand.”
I’d like to claim that my blog post spurred it all, but it actually comes after 18 months of planning.
The resulting philosophy will guide the design of “new websites, lounges, cabins, in-flight service, entertainment products” and more.
From our point of view the most interesting feature is the new website. So, what’s it like?
Homepage and search tool
Cathay’s site now has a clean, uncluttered design that befits its new customer-focused ethos.
The image of the junk boat set against the Hong Kong skyline is perfect for the brand, and it’s pleasing to note that it doesn’t use a homepage carousel.
The booking tool doesn’t exactly jump out at you but it does have a prominent position on the site.
Further down the page there are links to the latest flight deals departing from the user’s city, as well as links to destination guides and other useful content.
Selecting flight options confused me slightly at first as most airlines show two separate calendars – one for the departure date and one for the return journey.
However Cathay Pacific asks passengers to select both dates within the same calendar view. This is simple enough, but wasn’t what I was expecting.
The process is obviously the same on mobile, although the calendar only appears after the user has selected their destination.
Cathay’s new booking process is far simpler than the previous version.
This table makes it easy to compare the costs of flying on different days, though it could be improved by drawing more attention to the cheaper flights.
Cathay could potentially also improve conversions by using stock levels to create a sense of urgency among customers, but it might see this as a tactic for budget airlines.
At the next stage (page three of seven) Cathay offers passengers a quite baffling range of options.
There are six different choices ranging from £631.36 to £2,459.36, and this is only in economy. What if I wanted to fly business class?
Each economy class has slightly different criteria relating to upgrades, cancellations and ‘no show charges’, which doesn’t quite fit with the aim of creating a simpler customer experience.
It’s also at this stage that passengers have to choose the time of their departure, with the results now including scarcity indicators to create a fear of loss.
There are four more pages in the booking process so I won’t bore you with each one, but suffice to say that it retains the simple, clean aesthetic and is a vast improvement on the old site.
Costs are clearly presented upfront so passengers know what they’re paying for and won’t be fearful of hidden extras.
Cathay also offers a guest checkout and only asks customers for very basic personal information. The use of white space and large text fields means forms are very simple to complete.
Sadly it appears that Cathay hasn’t yet got round to optimising the booking process for mobile, which rather defeats the purpose.
Having performed the initial search on mobile, users are then expected to select their flight and complete a seven-stage payment process using a desktop site.
Clearly nobody is going to bother doing this so hopefully Cathay Pacific has plans to roll out an upgrade soon.
In fairness it’s unlikely that many people will actually convert on mobile, but it would have made sense to make the results page responsive at least so people can check their options before making a purchase on desktop.
Cathay Pacific’s new site is a vast improvement on the old version, though that isn’t particularly difficult to achieve.
But even so the airline deserves praise for recognising and addressing the issue while many of its competitors are happy to make do with out-dated, difficult websites.
The failure to optimise the flight search and booking process for mobile is a huge issue, but I would suspect that Cathay will make this upgrade at a later date.
It could be that the company has adopted a test-and-learn approach so later iterations will include improved functionality.
I certainly hope this is the case, or Cathay Pacific will have already fallen short of its rebranding goals.