Qantas A380 disruptions are not the only thing bothering passengers right now

It’s official, the Next Generation for Qantas has no people.

I am presently sitting on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne with Qantas. I have just had the most uncertain airport check in experience of my life. 

From the moment I entered the departure hall, until I boarded the aircraft, every step left me with unanswered questions.

Qantas are redefining the future of flying. In a world where airlines are too expensive to run and companies spend money coping with legal action and bad press, the hunger for profit has finally meant that we customers are left to deal directly with poorly designed technology, instead of having a lovely person as a buffer between sanity and IT.

It all started when I couldn’t find the check in desk!

As I entered the airport, I saw a strange looking wooden structure in the centre of the room. On which, all the signs pointed to the right and there was no indication of what I was supposed to do.

As I am 6′ 6” I need extra legroom and therefore I have to see someone at a desk so they can ask me if I am happy to be the first one out of the exit when the engine falls off.

So, the first question presented itself “What’s going on here?” 


When I finally found the check in kiosks, they were all standing in a diagonal row. Prompting the next question, “Where do I line up?” 

When a kiosk was free I presented myself and chose to enter my name, the only information I had about my flight, as Kylie had booked it for me. It found my booking!

I was fairly impressed. It looked quite usable.

So, I continued with the kiosk’s process that was clearly indicated with steps on a timeline at the top of the screen.

That’s where usability ended and stress took hold.

It started talking about Q Bag Tags. I was thinking ‘what is a Q Bag Tag and how many extra bag tags do I need?’ I thought they must have one at the counter for me, so I ordered 2. But I had three bags… then, to my surprise, it started printing bag tags… ah, it prints bag tags, I realised… Thanks for telling me! I had no idea what a bloody Q Bag Tag was, nor was I aware that there were no counters anymore.

Then another question arose, “Where do I go to put it on my bag? Do I just go and stand over there and do it?” I actually saw one guy put his tags on in front of the kiosk… this met with disapproval from passengers in the queue!

Then, after an uncertain wait, a few bag receipts were printed and my boarding pass was printed out, indicating the end of the process at the kiosk. I walked off with 2 bag tags and 3 bags. I then asked one of the 3 staff I found on the floor of the busy departures hall,where do I get another bag tag?’ She said, ‘didn’t you get three? Go back and use your boarding pass to get another tag.’ 

I murmered to myself.. why didn’t it confirm that when I was at the kiosk the first time?  I went back over to the kiosk and looked for the boarding pass option to get started. Nothing in the list… I entered my name again.

Then I went through the whole process again and got another bag tag.

Now, what do I do about oversized baggage?

I thought, I can’t go over to the bag drop because no one is there to help me.

Blood pressure rising, I found another person, and after waiting for a few minutes, they took me to a little terminal in the middle of the room, took a sticker off the oversized baggage tag and entered it into the system. She said, I need to know how heavy the bag is, and I told her it was 20 kg.. She trusted me 😉

Then she said, “Are you going to put this [roll up display poster] in as over sized baggage?” “I don’t know”, I said. “Do I need to?”

So next I went over to the bag drop off area and pressed a few buttons and weighed the only bag I had. Thats when the system told me I was 13 kg over weight and it was going to cost me $130. A kick in the guts after all this mucking around.

My non-oversized bag shushed off down the conveyor.  I was wondering “will I see it again?”

So I looked at the bag drop interface…. where do I pay the $130 oversized back fee please? Nothing…

I asked another staff again…And do you know what she said?!

“At the [f***ing] kiosk!”

Back to the kiosk I went. And as I approached the kiosk for the third time, an old guy who approached from the other direction accused me of taking his spot! Line the kiosks up on the wall please Qantas!

Then the same staff member I had spoken to twice already came over and said “You’re back again!’. I laughed… and thought “idiot”.

This time I worked out how to scan my silly boarding pass instead of typing in my name. Yes, it took me three visits to work this out!

I paid my money.

Then, I had to take my big bags over to the overly busy oversized baggage counter. Of course it was busy, no one was checking the bags carefully. I left my very expensive eye tracker equipment on the floor with a pile of other oversized bags, all sitting there t
ogether, hoping they make it to Melbourne.

How did I feel now?

I left the check in area anxious and shaking. I was wondering whether I would get my flight on time and I had arrived at the airport 75 minutes early!

Plus after all that, I had forgotten to get more leg room! And what’s more when I got on the plane the exit rows were basically empty!

When I got to the other end waiting at the conveyor belt to pick up my baggage, I felt certain it wasn’t going to arrive. Fortunately it did. 

 So why did all this go wrong?

1) Keep people informed 

With processes like this, that have only a few staff managing hundreds of transactions. One hundred percent of passenger types should be catered for by one hundred percent of the system. If this isn’t possible then the passengers need to be clearly informed about what to do at every step of the way on both the interface they are using and in the physical environment around them.

2) Test everything

My guess is that Qantas made sure that the interfaces on the machines, that require interaction, work really well, but they didn’t link the machines together at an overall process level.

3) Time in motion 

Qantas also didn’t consider the physical movement of people and put the wrong transactions on the wrong machines.  Why should I have to go back and line up at a busy kiosk to pay for excess baggage when I have already dropped my bag off!!

4) Help!

Qantas took all the staff away before the glitches in the system were ironed out.

It is obvious to me that different people where responsible for each of my interactions with Qantas and its technology interfaces during check in. I am sure that the program manager on the Next Gen project was too busy to consider all the parts of the puzzle at a high level and I guess that they didn’t have a team that was responsible for the overall customer experience.

I am sure the checkin kiosk and website were usability tested in isolation and the rest was left to engineers and builders.

So long… 

I am looking forward to my Virgin Blue flight home and I will not be flying Qantas again.

All these things could have been avoided with some pre planning, testing with passengers, clear signage and more staffing.

This form of customer abuse is simply irresponsible.

If you have had a similar experience, then vote with your feet.


James Breeze is the Chief Experience Officer of Objective Digital, a Sydney based user expience consultancy.


OD FAQs | How do you convince the executive of the value of user experience design?

During the AIMIA Digital Customer Experience forum, that I chaired this morning, there was considerable discussion about how to justify the work UX people do and have it accepted as part of the business culture.  Difficulties with acceptance often occur in large enterprise where traditional cultures are strong and therefore it is difficult to update process. However, the landscape is changing.

I have been encouraged in recent years that enterprise has accepted the importance of customer (and staff) research during the product development process.  Companies like Telstra, Fairfax, Sensis, News Corp, Westpac, BT Financial and CBA have their own internal customer experience teams.  Most importantly, these teams are not just working on website and mobile apps. The great ones are shaping the entire business! UX Leads are overseeing product design, not just focussing on the digital bits. 

Another trend for these teams, that has been slow to take off in Australia, is the consideration of more than just the technology interaction during the design process.  Great UX teams are thinking about how the entier customer journey is ‘designed’. Here’s a concept from Opher Yom-Tov, from BT Financial and previously IDEO.

 The design of a train, in Opher’s example, did not just consider the configuration of the carriage and seating. You can see in the image that the “Train Ride” is the 8th step in the process. If you don’t design the 7 steps before that, then the passenger might not even board the train!

So how do companies make this happen?

One project at a time.
Don’t use too many motherhood statements of user experience principles and try to preach them to the uninitiated. Instead do a project, do it properly and incorporate processes that engage users on the journey.  The outcomes will speak for themselves.


Seb Chan from The PowerHouse Museum, reckons that sharing results of research is an important part of the UX sales process. Even if you don’t have to, make sure that everyone knows that there is customer research available in a central repository (and that they can access it). The way that Seb encouraged sharing at the Powerhouse was to set up internal company blogs, where people began regularly sharing their insights from different projects. These blogs became so popular that they are now open to the World!


Opher suggested that you should treat the project as an education process where the business and technical stakeholders and project team members are taught what UX design means and why it is important. At project team meetings let people know what they are there and what each step will do for the project. When customers are engaged in the project take photos, these will be useful later, when you need to show everyone what you did.

Once these projects are launched and the business sees success the exec will come round to the user experience way of thinking.