I Missed my Flight, Could a Better Email Have Prevented That?

This week, I missed a flight. Absent-minded as I am, this was bound to happen eventually. Long story short, I got to the airport, with luggage and boarding pass in-hand, 20 hours after my flight had departed because my iCal entry was wrong. With me being me though, I instantly thought about how this could have been prevented. Obviously, it would have helped if I double-checked my itinerary, and if I were less absent-minded in general, but I want to keep this blog post realistic, so instead I’m going to look at how the design of the emails from KLM could have prevented this from happening. Ah, sweet irony.

Let’s look at the email that I got reminding me to check in for my flight. This was sent to me the day before my flight actually left.

The email I got the day before my flight cropped to only include the top part.

The email I got the day before my flight cropped to only include the top part.

There are a few design issues with this email.

First, and most obvious, almost half of the screen real estate is covered by marketing and sales items. The so called “Check-in tip” takes you straight to the page where you can pay extra for different seats (duh!). As for the image on the top right, I can’t think of a single good reason why it’s there, but I’m sure a lot of money went into doing market research concluding that this was definitely the move. I won’t touch these parts of the email though, since I want to stay realistic, and because robustness, if at all possible, should not come at the cost of potential profit.

Second, even though this is an email always sent the day before the flight (at least for KLM, this is not the case for all airlines) there is no reference to the flight being tomorrow. This feels like a lost opportunity since the idea of tomorrow is a lot stronger to people than a date.

Third, there are a few issues with the date line in the details section. Mainly, it doesn’t stand out at all and there’s another missed opportunity by not displaying the weekday harder. I think, similar to the last point, that weekdays register better with people than dates.

Fourth and final, the information at the top of the email is a bit redundant, most people will know their own name and what it means to check in, so no need to stress it so hard.

So, let’s put this into action and redesign the information sections.

My rough mock-up of a better email design.

My rough mock-up of a better email design.

Trying to stay true to the original email, I used the same color scheme and fonts, only changing how they were applied to the text. As you can tell, the first paragraph now gives you more or less all the information you really need: check in to your flight which boards tomorrow at 12:45. Moreover, the details section now clearly displays the weekday, and also does a better job at displaying the date itself, leaving nothing to ambiguity. I also stuck with the boarding time in the whole email to keep it simple.

This, of course, is a security blog, but sometimes I find it enlightening to apply security thinking to fields that most people don’t relate to security. In this case, that was as simple as identifying a risk, a user missing their flight, and remediating the issue by making small changes that don’t compromise the product. This is essentially what security engineers do all day long, but with confusing back-end fiddling rather than with pretty front-end design.

For those concerned, I luckily got an incredible deal to fly out the day after for quite little, so all is well that ends well. The thought of the surely hilarious mispronunciation of my name that must have blasted through the whole terminal the day before, also makes the ordeal taste a little less sour.

I’d love to hear what you thought about this brief foray into visual design. For now though, I really have to get going since I have a flight to catch, probably.

Sten SjöbergComment